ProtectAn opinion poll has shown strong public support for a campaign to protect children’s privacy by preventing the media from publishing photographs of children without parental consent.  A total of 67% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that the publication of such photographs should be made a criminal offence.

The opinion poll, carried out by ComRes [pdf], was commissioned by “Protect: The Campaign for Children’s Privacy” set up by Hannah Weller following the successful privacy action brought by her husband, Paul Weller, on behalf of their children against the Daily Mail.

The claim concerned photographs which were taken in the street in Los Angeles and published in the newspaper in an unpixellated form. On 16 April 2014, Dingemans J awarded the Weller children a total of £10,000 damages for misuse of private information (Weller v Associated Newspapers [2014] EWHC 1163 (QB)) .

Another striking result from the poll was the rejection by respondents of a public interest justification for the publication of photographs of children.  In response to the proposition “Newspapers and magazines should be free to published pictures of children where there is a clear public interest” only 27% of respondents agreed while 59% disagreed.

This goes further than the Protect campaign, which recognizes that there should be a public interest defence. It does, however, show the strength of public feeling on the issue.

Other results from the poll included the following:

  • Newspapers and Magazines should not publish photographs of children without parental consent

Agree 79%

Disagree 12 %

  • Children should be able to grow up without press intrusion into their lives

Agree 85%

Disagree 8%

  • Children do not require protection from media intrusion

Agree  12%

Disagree  77%

  • If editors and publishers cannot obtain parental consent then they should pixelate or blur children’s faces in any published photographs

Agree 76%

Disagree 14%

There was an article about the campaign and the poll in the Guardian on 3 January 2015 entitled “Hannah Weller: I’m fighting to protect everyone’s children”.

However, the call for children’s privacy was strongly opposed by the NUJ Photographers’ council which said

“This proposal is simplistic, dangerous, wrong in principle, unworkable and not the answer to the problems they raise. Banning photographs of children – all children – without prior parental consent would have a chilling effect on a free press. The campaign does propose exceptions for crowd shots and photographs published in the public interest.
Who is going to have the time, when under the pressure of daily deadlines, to decide whether or not the publication of an innocent photograph of one or more children aged under 18 can be justified, “in the public interest”? There is a general public interest in both freedom of expression and in being able to photograph society generally and in public places”.

These objections were repeated in a piece in today’s Guardian, “Hannah Weller’s campaign on press intrusion may have chilling results“.

However, the Protect proposal received support in the House of Lords on 6 January 2015 when Baroness Smith raised the question as to what consideration had been given to the aims of “Protect”. When the question was being discussed Lib Dem peer Baroness Benjamin said that

society’s clear moral duty is to protect all children. Section 8 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code does so and is very specific about the privacy and protection of children. All broadcasters apply these rules responsibly. What can be done to ensure that similar rules which refer more specifically to this type of photography are included in the print media code of practice and adhered to in order to protect children from unwanted exposure and potential harm?