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  1. Media Law
January 6, 2015

Government asked to consider ban on newspapers publishing unpixelated photos of children

By Dominic Ponsford

Parliament is today set to hear a call for the Government to consider banning unpixelated pictures of children from appearing in newspapers without the consent of parents.

Baroness Smith of Basildon, a former Labour minister, is set to ask the Government during House of Lords questions this afternoon: “What assessment they have made of the effects on children of the publication of photographs of them without agreement or permission; and what consideration they have given to the aims of Protect: the Campaign for Children’s Privacy.”

The campaign has been set up musician Paul Weller and his wife Hannah following the family’s High Court privacy victory against Mail Online in April 2014.

The family sued over photos taken on 16 October 2012 in Los Angeles of the Weller family out shopping and relaxing in a café.

The High Court ruled that damages should be paid of £2,500 each to then 10-month old twins John Paul and Bowie and £5,000 to Dylan Weller, then aged 16.

Mail Online is appealing the judgment arguing that the pictures did not breach Californian law.

The National Union of Journalists photographers’ council warned that the proposed law is “simplistic, dangerous, wrong in principle, unworkable and not the answer to the problems they raise”.

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It said: “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. 

"We already have the Editors' Code and the NUJ's own Code of Conduct, and law on harassment. The Editors' Code says ‘Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life’.

“So the Mail should not have published the pictures in the Wellers' case cited by the campaign, in accordance with the existing Editors' Code. We don't need to criminalise the publishing of pictures of children to deal with a case like the Wellers’.

"Moreover no-one seems to have taken into account the many thousands, millions, of photographs of under-18s published daily on Facebook and other social media.  Most of which are taken by the children themselves!

"This has clearly not been thought through and changes to the law would be unnecessary and draconian and not in the interest of a free press."

Hannah Weller told The Observer: “I want this to be the start of something. I met with Nick Clegg and he was supportive and I had a follow-up meeting with his special advisers, who were all very supportive. A change in the law is possible and it is necessary.”

"As a mother, I just thought when those pictures were published: people know who Paul is and what he looks like, now they know what our children look like, they know Paul has money. It would only take one nutter to spot them, snatch them. It wouldn’t take much if they really wanted to take our children for ransom or worse."

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