Editor’s Note: Victoria Arbiter is CNN’s royal commentator. She is the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II’s former royal press secretary Dickie Arbiter. Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaArbiter. The opinions in this piece are solely hers.
In a rather unsurprising move, Kensington Palace has released a letter expressing its concern over the growing number of paparazzi photographs taken of Prince George in recent weeks – photographs subsequently bought and published by the foreign press.
While aides were quick to praise the British media for not printing illicit photos, they issued their strongest warning yet to those who choose to forgo decent editorial practices.
Citing the serious issue of security, the statement also drew attention to the perverse way in which such photos are obtained. Many would argue that all children, not just those who are royal, should be allowed to play free from the prying eye of a photographer intent on financial gain, sequestered in the boot of his car and equipped with a long lens.
But George is not just any child. There have been photos of him playing with his mother at a park close to the family’s Norfolk home, images of him on the beach with his grandmother, Carole Middleton, and others of him out and about with his nanny in London. The list goes on.
Paparazzi pictures have plagued the British royals for decades. More than 30 years ago, images of Princess Diana frolicking in the surf were splashed across every British front page.
And who could forget the startling images of Sarah Ferguson having her toes sucked. When Prince William and Prince Harry were children, stepladders were regularly propped against school walls in the hope of gaining surreptitious photos.
But the royals are not alone in their fight for the privacy of their children. The British press now blurs the faces of famous offspring, but around the rest of the world, there doesn’t appear to be any strict regulation. No doubt, one day, Suri Cruise, Harper Beckham and Shiloh Pitt will have plenty to say on the topic.
The question is, how do you mandate a global press? Given George and Charlotte’s positions as potential monarchs, is it unreasonable of William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, to demand privacy for their children?
Lines of decency blurred
The Duke and Duchess have both expressed a desire to provide as normal a childhood as possible for George and Charlotte, and their efforts to offer experiences beyond palace walls should be applauded. But it’s also true that any parent would be alarmed by the idea of his or her child being stalked. When it comes to the royal family, however, the lines of decency are often blurred as outlets feed what has become an insatiable public appetite.
Since his mother’s death, William has made no secret of his thoughts about the media – feelings that were further cemented by the publication of photos revealing his wife sunbathing topless in the south of France in 2012.
The Palace has consistently maintained its stance that unofficial photos are a clear breach of privacy, but when pictures are taken in a public place, there is very little recourse, especially when there are occasional exceptions to the rule.
In 2014, royal-friendly Hello! Magazine published paparazzi photos of Catherine and George en route to their holidays on the Caribbean island of Mustique. The palace didn’t utter a word. When pressed for comment, aides said the photos were taken in a “public place” where dozens of other tourists were milling around, so anyone could have taken them. Yet it wasn’t just anyone who took them: it was a paparazzi photographer with his eye on the prize.
In 2013, however, when photographs of Catherine on the beach in Mustique were sold to the highest bidder, it was made abundantly clear that the royals were not happy. As the Palace now fights to gain stricter control over what is and isn’t printed, it also needs to establish a clearer position on what qualifies as a public place.
Early indications seemed to illustrate that the airport was indeed a public place. The beach? Well, that was a negative. With regards to the children, it is now imperative that enforced guidelines accompanied by harsh consequences are enforced.
In this era of 24-hour news and online publications fueled by the necessity for click bait, there will always be those who refuse to be curtailed. If outlets are banned from covering various engagements, they might, at the very least, begin to question their editorial choices.
Modern royal couple seeking modern royal life
Some have suggested that William and Catherine follow the model set by many of the European royal houses, which choose to provide regular updates and official photographs of royal children. But it is a model that simply wouldn’t work for the British Royal Family.
During the Cambridge’s 2014 tour of Australia and New Zealand, George undertook two engagements with his parents. William and Catherine offered surprising access to their first-born son, resulting in a wealth of adorable footage.
Nevertheless, during the family’s day off in Australia, photographs of Catherine and George playing privately were snapped and promptly sold. The couple were, again, remarkably accessible on the day of Princess Charlotte’s christening and provided official photos only three weeks later on the occasion of George’s second birthday.
Generations of royals have simply had to deal with invasive pictures, but William and Catherine are a modern royal couple seeking a modern royal life. Today’s strongly worded letter indicating a zero-tolerance approach is just another example of their modern way of thinking. Only time will tell whether or not it can be enforced.
It wouldn’t matter how many official photos were released; as long as the public continues to click on links to pictures revealing private moments, images will be taken. By opening the conversation, Kensington Palace is raising awareness to the seedy fashion in which paparazzi photographs are obtained.
And yet, let’s say an online entity teased a spread of Prince George eating an ice cream while playing in the sand box with his baby sister and Lupo the dog which “somebody else” posted to Facebook or Twitter, would you click on the photo? Until there is a collective “no,” it is a battle William and Catherine have very little chance of winning.