The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have threatened legal action if a certain photographer allegedly continues to stalk their son, Prince George. The position of the photographer is that he will continue to take photographs of the Prince when he is in a public area. There is a simplistic and self-serving argument that anything that the famous do is in the public interest. The genuine public interest, in terms of what is the common weal, is thus conflated with the prurience of some members of the public. Another part of this argument is that when someone is in public then they should not be able to escape the scrutiny of the media, whatever that scrutiny exposes. Finally it is argued that because the famous benefit from favourable publicity they must also accept stoically the demon they have unleashed – it is all part of the same thing, harassment by the paparazzi is a necessary evil to benefiting from your reputation being enhanced by your own PR operation.
These arguments do not look very robust on the face of it. Why should harassment by paparazzi be a necessary consequence of being famous? Is the media really so unable to restrain itself that when it favours a celebrity with some positive news it is overwhelmed by an uncontrollable and entirely natural urge to damage that reputation? And if it is, why should that be acceptable and not involve any moral consequences for the media? These usual arguments though are not directly relevant to Prince George however for two reasons. First Royalty is not seeking publicity, but as a necessary part of its role and duty it inevitably is public. The old argument that if you promote yourself that is self-seeking and you must therefore also suffer damage to your reputation surely cannot apply when you are known to the public simply by fulfilling your duty.
A member of the Royal Family is not like a politician seeking re-election or a pop star seeking publicity for their new record, but by definition is born into a public duty. This is not about self-interest and the publicity that Royalty is exposed to is in our service not theirs – it brings us together as a nation and gives a greater depth to our national life, so that existing is not simply about earning a living and consuming products, but is given a depth of history, tradition and unity. So the purpose of Royal publicity is the national interest. Therefore the usual, vengeful urge to undermine and destroy should not apply.
In response photographers of Royalty might argue that the photographs taken without consent will still further endear the young heir to the Throne to the British public. Be that as it may, it is still deleterious to the life of a young child. To ensure that the life of duty he will follow is reasonable in its demands, he must be entitled to a childhood. It must therefore be for the parents to manage the publicity to which he is exposed. This is not only about Prince George’s office, but also about a young child who did not choose his public role. What makes this photographing of Prince George particularly inappropriate is the way that his grandmother the Princess of Wales met her tragic death. It must surely add to the emotional charge to Prince William when he discovers that his young son is apparently being stalked by Paparazzi. This means that the impact on the family of surreptitious photographing is even more harmful and distressing than it would be to anyone else thrown into a public role by fate.
It is true that Royalty is of a public nature. Our laws and traditions make clear we are subject to our Monarch and part of her realm. The Royal Family are by dint of their office public people, but they are also human beings with private feelings who are also fulfilling that office. That is why it is wrong to pry unasked into family moments. Of course George is ours, but only insofar as he is a prince, with his ceremonial public-aspect. Insofar as he is the son of a young couple, he is part of a private family. The media would do well to keep that distinction in mind.