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PCC statement on Prince Harry photographs

At its regular meeting this week, the Press Complaints Commission discussed the issues raised by photographs of Prince Harry taken in Las Vegas that have been published widely online and, to a limited extent, in the UK press. The Commission received around 3,800 complaints that the publication by The Sun newspaper of these photographs raised a breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice. The Commission is in continuing dialogue with Prince Harry's representatives but as yet has not received a formal complaint.

The Commission would be best placed to understand these issues - including the circumstances in which the photographs were taken - with the formal involvement of Prince Harry's representatives. In addition, an investigation by the Commission, without consent, would have the potential itself to pose an intrusion.

The Commission is grateful to the many members of the public who have contacted it to express concerns about The Sun's coverage but has concluded that it would be inappropriate for it to open an investigation at this time for the reasons above.

It wishes, however, to place on record the actions it has taken.

On 22 August the Commission issued an advisory notice drawing to editors' attention the concerns of Prince Harry's representatives, on privacy grounds, about the potential publication of the photographs in the UK press. The advisory notice system provides a means to help individuals who find themselves at the centre of a news story to communicate their concerns that the Editors' Code of Practice is being breached or may be breached in forthcoming coverage. These notices do not prohibit publication; they help editors to make well-informed decisions about how to cover the news in a way that meets their obligations under the Code. In this instance, as always, the decision whether or not to publish remained with the editor of each publication.

In addition, as the story was unfolding the Commission provided advice, on request, to editors about the relevant issues under the Code. This noted the terms of Clause 3 of the Code and, in particular, Clause 3 (iii), which states that it is "unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent" and which defines private places as "public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy". The Commission recognises exceptions to the terms of Clause 3 where publication can be shown to be in the public interest. The Code also requires that the Commission "consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so". Publications were reminded that they would be required to justify any decision to publish should the Commission later undertake a formal investigation.

It would be wrong to pre-empt the conclusions the Commission might reach were a complaint to be pursued. Nonetheless, the Commission notes that the question of how to apply the terms of Clause 3 (Privacy) in relation to material that is freely available on the internet is one that it has faced on a number of occasions in recent years, including in the cases of Mullan, Weir & Campbell v Scottish Sunday Express (2009); A Woman v Loaded (2010); Minogue v Daily Mirror/Daily Record (2010); and Baskerville v Daily Mail/The Independent on Sunday (2011). In each instance it reached a decision only after a detailed examination of the facts of the case.

The Commission proposes to publish guidance for publications on these matters, drawing from its decisions on previous cases.

For further information contact Jonathan Collett by email: jonathan.collett@pcc.org.uk or call 07740 896805

06/09/2012



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