PCC holds the line on celebrities’ children

With the controversy over the publicity surrounding Prince Harry’s dalliance with illegal drugs, the reaction of the Press Complaints Commission to stories in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail concerning the application made by the Prime Minister’s son, Euan Blair, to an Oxford College was a test of whether the PCC Code’s protection for children would hold firm.

The complaint by the Prime Minister and his wife concerned paragraph 6(i) of the Code: “Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion”, and paragraph 6(v): “Where material about the private life of a child is published, there must be justification other than the fame, notoriety or position of his or her parents or guardian”.

The Commission confirmed that the purpose of the first provision was to enable all children to undergo their education “away from the glare of publicity”. The supplementary provision of sub-paragraph (v) was to protect the children of the famous in particular from publicity generated by the public interest in their parents. The Commission took account of the fact that the application for a university place is a time of particular anxiety and therefore vulnerability for young people, and therefore publication of the article risked damage to Euan Blair’s education and welfare.

The Daily Telegraph’s public interest argument was rejected. The Commission commented that there must be an exceptional public interest such as where complainants or their children were making choices in conflict with government policy, which was not the case here.

The fact that the story originally came from a list of applicants to the college which was posted at its porter’s lodge did not, in the view of the Commission, place the matter in the public domain in a way to justify the story.

The Commission concluded that the Daily Mail, whose story was clearly derivative of that of the Daily Telegraph, was in a different position. The story had, by then, already reached the public domain via the Telegraph article. The Daily Mail was also less culpable because it had made an enquiry of Downing Street, which had not then stated that it considered the material private. It was therefore invited to try to deal with the complaint by negotiation.

The Commission did warn that it was more “difficult” for it to protect the privacy of an individual where that individual had acquired “a public profile in their own right, for instance by making public appearances.” Euan Blair has therefore been warned about future sorties into the limelight with stars at film premieres.

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