Children have a right to privacy (even in christening photos)

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They were, according to taste, "lovely pictures", as Chris Smith, the minister responsible for aesthetics, described them; "inoffensive" in the words of Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's spokesman. Some may have found Cherie's outfit a little excessive, as lilac goes. But the photos of the proud father cradling the infant had, as the crowd of well-wishers and amateur photographers put it, a certain "Aah" quality. Where on earth could the harm be in putting a selection of them on most of yesterday's front pages?

They were, according to taste, "lovely pictures", as Chris Smith, the minister responsible for aesthetics, described them; "inoffensive" in the words of Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's spokesman. Some may have found Cherie's outfit a little excessive, as lilac goes. But the photos of the proud father cradling the infant had, as the crowd of well-wishers and amateur photographers put it, a certain "Aah" quality. Where on earth could the harm be in putting a selection of them on most of yesterday's front pages?

The Prime Minister certainly seems to be spitting into the wind in his appeal to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). The idea that the British press might exercise voluntary restraint seems far-fetched when it includes a newspaper which prints random mug shots of people convicted of child sex offences so its readers can lynch anyone who looks like them.

Yet Mr and Mrs Blair are quite within their rights to ask the media to respect their family's privacy, and absolutely justified in asking the PCC for guidance on the issue. The code of practice, which all British newspapers pledge to observe, says in clause 6 (ii) that "Journalists must not interview or photograph children... without the consent of a parent." This is poorly drafted, because it says nothing about the publication of photos taken by people who are not journalists, but the implication is sweeping.

Clause 6 (v) is clearer: "Where material about the private life of a child is published, there must be justification for publication other than the fame, notoriety or position of his or her parents."

The phrase "private life" is the rub. Christenings, marriages and funerals are public events in that the point of them is to mark a rite of passage in full view of "the community". But in the modern world of global communications and the vicarious sharing in the lives of celebrities, the boundaries become more difficult. Thus Hollywood stars and English footballers have "private" weddings which are then shared with the readers of Hello! While anyone famous who wants to protect their private life has to fight hard for it in the teeth of public cynicism about their motives.

Mr and Mrs Blair asked for privacy, but they were never likely to get it. Pragmatically, they might have been better off using the device they copied from the royal family two years ago, of trading an "official" photo call at the start of their Italian holiday for privacy during it. They did the same with Leo's birth. They could have consented to such a photo-call as they went into the church last weekend.

However, they are quite right to beware the thin end of the wedge-shaped long lens. Leo's new-born pictures were supposed to buy media restraint for the next 16 years, yet here we are, two months later, with news editors deciding what is and what is not a private event.

Yes, Mr Blair uses his children to present himself as a family man for political purposes. But even if it is argued that this makes his desire to protect their privacy hypocritical - not an argument that stands up to much scrutiny - the children still have their rights irrespective of the sins, fame or policies of their parents.

The christening photos do not matter in themselves. But there is a principle at stake. If the Blairs' approach to the PCC encourages it to tighten up the wording of its code and raises awareness among journalists, it will help to recover some of the battered reputation of press self-regulation.

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