Bill Hagerty On The Press
Is Prince Harry using the PCC code to muzzle the press?
Monday 20 December 2004
Picture the scene: a member of the public and his girlfriend go on holiday to a tropical island and, sunning themselves on a public beach, encounter a newspaper photographer.
Picture the scene: a member of the public and his girlfriend go on holiday to a tropical island and, sunning themselves on a public beach, encounter a newspaper photographer. Affronted, the holidaymakers - let us say he is a window cleaner, she a trainee hairdresser, both from Romford in Essex - contact the local authorities and demand that the photographer be removed, not just from the beach but from the island. The authorities immediately dispatch a detachment of armed military to escort the snapper from these idyllic surroundings.
Such action would, of course, be accompanied by a fly-past of suntanned pigs. In other words, fat chance. Yet that's exactly what happened last week on the secluded and exclusive island of Bazaruto, part of a small archipelago some 25 miles off the coast of Mozambique.
The couple were not, however, from Romford. This was a member of the British Royal Family exercising his right to privacy. Prince Harry and his friend, Chelsy Davy, were so irritated by the presence of the media that assistance was summoned in the shape of what a News of the World reporter and photographer believed to be Mozambique marines, who invited the unwelcome guests to depart forthwith.
The troops were part of an armed group that pursued in a boat another boat chartered by the News of the World team. The two who boarded the NoW craft left their weapons with their colleagues, but the mere presence of militia was intimidating, as was the threat of jail if they did not leave the area.
Back in London, I understand the Clarence House press office, headed by Paddy Harveson, approached the Press Complaints Commission, although no formal complaint was then made. Hard to see how there could be - the PCC's Code of Practice includes this on privacy: "It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent. Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy."
The fact that my fictional Romford couple would have to work for years to earn enough to travel to and stay on Bazaruto does not alter the public nature of its beaches. Being the member of a powerful and wealthy family and having enough pocket money to afford to holiday at an "exquisite island resort" costing upwards of £180 per night for single occupancy - my Romford couple are a chaste pair - does not mean you own the surrounding terrain.
The News of the World insists that its team in no way harassed Prince Harry or his companions and that no photographs were taken within the private confines of the resort, where the journalists initially managed book in - they were asked to leave when they were rumbled. Editor Andy Coulson, who refused to withdraw his people from the island on the grounds that they had broken no law and would continue to honour the PCC code, is most concerned that the increasingly vainglorious Prince Harry and Clarence House seek to use the privacy code as a bludgeon to be swung whenever a camera lens is spotted. So am I. It will be interesting to see if yesterday's publication in the News of the World of a photograph, perfectly innocuous, of Prince Harry taken on Bazuruto leads to a formal complaint. In the meantime, Harry should narrow his horizons - and check out Romford.
* When I was preparing last week's item on London's new freesheet, Standard Lite, I was told by the paper's spokesperson that the Audit Bureau of Circulations had agreed to incorporate the giveaway Lite in the paper's overall sales figures.
Not so, says the ABC - the Lite figure will have to be displayed separately.
Bad news for the Evening Standard, as part of Lite's function is to drive up a slipping circulation to comfort advertisers. They are unlikely to be impressed by figures relating to solely extra giveaway copies - the streets of London are littered with discarded freesheets.
Littlejohn's unsinkable spoof
Plagiarism is not unknown in journalism. Neither is the apocryphal story that gains such momentum that it turns up everywhere: in newspapers, pubs and taxis - a tale often involving a dead body being transported in the boot of an unsuspecting driver's car.
A delicious mix of these two elements of the trade is the progress of a column written in The Sun by Richard Littlejohn. On 1 October, attracted by the story of an actor posing as Lord Nelson having to don a lifejacket over his 19th-century admiral's uniform before being allowed aboard a lifeboat, Littlejohn fancifully rewrote the history of the Battle of Trafalgar in the wake of health-and-safety regulations.
Immediately catapulted on to various websites, his piece then turned up some weeks later as a letter, purportedly from a reader in Middlesex, in the Daily Mail's Peterborough column, which was of course looted from The Daily Telegraph when that paper threw it overboard. Tongue-in-cheek, Littlejohn sent the Mail an invoice and, strangely, Peterborough was moved to the back of the paper shortly after this, although whether this was penance or just part of the Mail restructuring is unclear.
The story doesn't end there. On 25 November the Conservative peer Lord Steinberg used exactly the same piece of whimsy, without attribution, in his maiden speech to the Lords.
As Littlejohn is doubtless observing to himself, you couldn't make it up. Except, of course, that he did.
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