Yesterday, William and Kate's Press Secretary Jason Knauf released a very interesting letter on behalf of TRHs addressing paparazzi pictures of Prince George. It was quite different from any other communiqué, where the press office released some boiler-plate complaint to which no one really paid much mind.
This letter was a direct appeal to the public, in addition to the foreign editors. Not only that, it did not just allude to paparazzi activity, it spelled out in detail certain tactics used to gain these snaps. Most relevantly, it discussed a certain incident which seems to have sparked what has developed into quite a serious issue. The scenario described is as follows:
One recent incident – just last week – was disturbing, but not at all uncommon. A photographer rented a car and parked in a discreet location outside a children's play area. Already concealed by darkened windows, he took the added step of hanging sheets inside the vehicle and created a hide stocked with food and drinks to get him through a full day of surveillance, waiting in hope to capture images of Prince George. Police discovered him lying down in the boot of the vehicle attempting to shoot photos with a long lens through a small gap in his hide.
As you are all aware, I have strongly supported paparazzi photos of the adult royals over the years. I think that as long as William and Kate are in a public place, they are not exempt from the camera. I have argued that if they need complete seclusion, they have houses to retreat to and vacation destinations at their disposal.
The problem with this letter is that it isn't actually addressing pure privacy. This memo talks about privacy, but the core point is actually security, which is a separate matter. The Palace stated:
In a heightened security environment such tactics are a risk to all involved. The worry is that it will not always be possible to quickly distinguish between someone taking photos and someone intending to do more immediate harm.
The concern here is not privacy, it is terrorism! Safety, not image, is what has really rattled William and Kate, and in all honesty, it rattles me, too. We live in an increasingly violent and ugly world, and political unrest is sweeping the globe. I do not doubt for a minute that precious baby George and soon his sister Charlotte and siblings to follow, might be targets.
The Met Police issued a statement after the Palace's, and I have emphasized some parts in bold that I think are particularly important:
The covert actions of photographers have at times caused concerns during police protection operations when they have been considered a possible security threat.Our role is to maintain security and there is a risk to those who choose to use covert tactics when a police operation is in place. At a time when the national security threat level from international terrorism is at severe, all officers are at a heightened level of readiness.
Officers involved in the security of protected people are armed and have to constantly assess security risks. Photographers using covert tactics often come to the attention of armed officers who take steps to stop and verify the details of those who raise suspicions. Photographers are potentially putting themselves at risk from armed intervention where our armed officers perceive a risk to the personal safety of their principal, the public and themselves.When assessing potential threats armed officers have to make split second decisions regarding their use of force in order to protect their principals, the public and their colleagues.Whilst the majority of photographers work responsibly we would ask those that choose to use covert tactics to consider their actions in light of this potential risk.
Plain translation: take these covert snaps at your own risk. If you are hiding in the boot of your car and we mistake the glint of your camera lens to be the edge of a deadly weapon, and we take action...you were warned. This is very serious! When people are assassinated in broad daylight, one minute it is normal and the next someone is dead. That's how WWI got kicked off. I think we forget that the security details attached to the royals are not just fancy accouterments. Terrorism is at an all-time high and it can be very hard for an officer to determine if he/she has a real situation or just a snapper, and they have a life or death call to make with very little time to deliberate.
The problem I have is that the Palace seems to be mixing the two issues. They framed an aspect of paparazzi shots that has created a security concern for both the subject of the snaps (George, Kate, Carole, whomever) and the safety of the photographer should he be mistaken for someone with nefarious designs! We are not talking about a privacy line so much as we are talking about people's lives. That is a bigger deal.
There is obviously some overlap here, but to frame it foremost as privacy concern with security mixed in is disingenuous and probably harmful. The Met police--who provide the PPOs for the royal family--are having trouble distinguishing a paparazzo from a security threat. That is a tough issue to solve because in this instance the pap could look the same as the security threat, but it is not the same issue and ought not to bundled in with it. Possibly, the Palace is thinking they can use the security threat to also make a stab (pun partially intended) at the pap shots they are always frustrated by. If this is the case, it is very unwise to attempt to put them together. This should be presented to the public as a separate issue. Only when it is unpacked can we really fully assess the situation and work toward a solution.
At this point, the Met seems to be throwing down a reasonable warning. If you are a pap and are taking photos in the normal manner of a pap photographer, out in the open, etc, the royals will be annoyed, but that's a privacy spat. If you are using elaborate tactics to hide yourself in this "covert" manner and the police cannot immediately determine if you are a threat or just a snapper, you might be risking your life.
The Palace has chosen the wrong tact on this and and should immediately switch their strategy. From the two documents it appears that both photographers and possibly George are in danger, and it should not look like the Palace press office is trying to capitalize on this to end casual photos in general. To be clear, I do not say this because I am looking to defend pap shots, but because one issue is far, far more grave than the other. We can all disagree about whether pap shots of George, taken in a public location, are fair, but no one would argue that his safety must be assured, in addition to the safety of the photographers, no matter how much you dislike their work!
The sooner the Palace does away with the double-talk, makes the distinction, and says--we have a problem balancing paparazzi photos, not because they annoy us, but because our security team often worries that a photographer is a terrorist--the sooner we should be able to get some traction to fix the issue. That might be the better deterrent, too. Paps: you could die. Do you want to die? For a few photos? Because someone on the beat was stressed and thought they had a terrorist gunning for the future king of England? I think the covert photos would either stop or almost disappear. That wouldn't dry up candids, but it would alleviate that particular security concern.
So, to be very clear. A valid discussion can be had about paparazzi pictures and children. What is the line, where is the line, etc. But, this is not that discussion. This is a very, very serious matter, related to paparazzi activity, but having to do with security, and it should be dealt with as the primary issue and not as a part of a broader problem that has been (and will be) an ongoing dispute between the Palace and the public.