Palace ‘incandescent’ at intrusive photography

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on tour in the Solomon Islands as controversy rages back home © Getty Images

Last week, a French magazine published a series of photos of Princess Kate, taken when she was sunbathing on a private estate. Now the royals have responded with legal action.

Across the Middle East, rioters are besieging US embassies. In the East China Sea, a territorial row is mounting between two of the world’s largest economies. Yet this weekend one story dominated the British press: a series of grainy photos of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.

The shots were taken on an estate in France, where Kate had briefly stayed with her husband Prince William, heir to the British throne. They do not reveal the princess in the midst of any shocking or controversial act. They tell us nothing new about her or anyone else. So what makes them so very newsworthy? Simply, that in some of these photographs, Kate is not wearing a top.

The couple, sunbathing on a balcony, were serenely unaware of the journalist on top of a nearby hill, watching them through a telescopic camera lens. Not until French gossip magazine Closer splashed the photos across its cover did they realise that their privacy had been breached.

According to reporters, William and Kate are shaken by the photographs. And the Palace is enraged: this incident, said a spokesperson, brings to mind ‘the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.’ Now the couple’s lawyers have announced that they will sue Closer.

The Royal Family will most likely win compensation, though not enough to seriously harm the magazine. The judge may well also issue an injunction, ensuring that the photos will never be printed in the British press.

Former Prime Minister John Major has even called for the ‘peeping Tom’ photographer to be prosecuted – and Prince William agrees.

With the British press reeling from the News of the World hacking scandal, newspapers are in no mood to risk publishing the photos. In fact, newspapers are unanimous in their disapproval.

But however stern the public censure and however firm the Palace’s response, the images will never be entirely suppressed: by now the photos are scattered across the internet, and nothing can be done to eradicate them there.

A public life

How depressing, some say, that privacy is such a fragile thing nowadays. One snap from a disrespectful hack and Kate is compromised forever. The only way to avoid this sort humiliation, they say, is to prosecute the rats behind the camera.

That would be an overreaction, others respond. The only person who should feel degraded is the photographer. The rest of us should treat the photos with the contempt they deserve: we should simply ignore them. In the Internet Age, they admit, total privacy might be impossible; but we can still rise above tawdriness like this, and so we should.

You Decide

  1. Is there any justification for publishing secretly-taken photographs of a private moment in a magazine?
  2. Is privacy a thing of the past?

Activities

  1. Think of a private message you have recently sent by email or text, and rewrite it in a way that you would be happy for the whole world to see. How different is its meaning now?
  2. Write a short story set in a world where privacy no longer existed, and every moment of a person’s life was on public view.

Some People Say...

“You can’t expect privacy if you’re a celebrity.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why does everybody care about a few silly photos?
When celebrities feel that everything they do is open to the public eye, it can have hugely damaging effects for their mental health. This issue is particularly relevant for the Royal Family, since Prince William’s mother Diana suffered hugely from the incessant attentions of the press. She was an object of fascination right up until her death, when her car crashed while fleeing the paparazzi. Photographs of Diana on life support were later published without her family’s consent.
But that’s just celebrities, right?
At those extremes, perhaps. But with more and more of our lives being recorded on social media, it can be difficult even for ordinary people to keep their private lives private.

Word Watch

Paparazzi
The word ‘paparazzi’ was first used in the Italian film La Dolce Vita, which features an ambitious and unscrupulous photojournalist named Paparazzo. Director Federico Fellini said that he named the character because it evoked in Italian ‘a particularly annoying noise, that of a buzzing mosquito.’
Injunction
An injunction is a legal order that prohibits a person or organisation from carrying out a particular act. In the case of the media, this means being banned from printing particular facts, allegations or pictures. Particularly controversial are superinjunctions, which make it illegal for the press even to mention that the injunction exists.
British press reeling
In July 2011, the hugely successful News of the World closed after it emerged that journalists on the paper had been illegally hacking the phones of public figures. An inquiry was set up, headed by Lord Justice Leveson, to examine press ethics, in which many more details emerged about questionable practices in the media. The questioning has now finished, and Lord Leveson is forming his conclusions.

Subjects

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