They were the naked pictures of Prince Harry that went around the world in a matter of hours on the internet – but that the once-fearless British press were too frightened to publish.
Even the soaraway Sun initially printed a mock-up of the photograph on its front page before folding to public pressure and finally running the Harry photo a few days later – under the headline ‘Heir it is”.
Now the UK’s Press Complaints Commission (PCC), the U.K’s famously toothless self-regulatory press watchdog, has issued fresh guidance on using photos posted on social media – and its just as out of date, vague and jargon-filled as long-time fans of the PCC would expect.
The PCC said the publication of the shot of the Prince partying hard in Vegas "raised an issue that has been growing in importance with the increasing use of social media as a means of communication by the general public and as a journalistic tool," and said they would produce guidance designed to provide practical advice to editors and journalists "when considering whether or not to publish material that has entered the public domain."
The PCC’s Charlotte Dewar said: "The code requires that editors justify any intrusion into an individual's private life without consent. It is important that editors understand that caution needs to be used whenever they are considering publishing potentially intrusive material, even if it has previously been published elsewhere - and particularly if the previous publication has occurred without the individual's consent.”
If that's practical advice, I 'd hate to see their un-practical advice.
Basically, it seems to me that the PCC is saying that if the Harry situation were replicated over again, the British press would still be the laughing stock of the world, unable to publish photographs of the third-in-line to the throne cavorting naked while the pictures were disseminated electronically world wide.
I called the PCC and a terribly nice spokesperson said that while they weren’t issuing a formal ruling having not received a complaint from Harry, printing the Prince Harry photos would not necessarily have been a breach of the code because they were so widely in the public domain. But then again, depending on a range of factors, blah blah blah, it might have been a breach after all.
07:36 EST update: A panicked communications director at the PCC emails and asks me to call. We have a long and increasingly bad tempered discussion. He also can't tell me if it would be OK for the UK papers to publish the Harry pics if the situation happened again, because that's not how the PCC works. They'd have to publish first and wait and see if they got damned. But these notes should help them figure out if they would be damned or not.
I reckon it will be about 7 more minutes till we get a clarifying email that clarifies nothing at all.