Princess Diana, Privacy and Press Freedom in the United Kingdom


Lady Diana, Princess of Wales


Are the cameras to blame ???


Table of Contents

Part II

Press Self-Regulation and Code of Practices in the UK

Proposed Changes to the Code - the way forward ?

Conclusion - Privacy at Last ?

Further Resources and Online Links

Diana: A Year After


Press Self-Regulation and Code of Practices

in the United Kingdom

If Parliament and the judges refuse to take decisive legal action, then is there any other way in which press intrusions might be stopped? The idea has grown that press self-regulation might be the best approach. This avoids any hint of government intervention and the fear of state censorship. But at the same time, the demand for "proper" journalistic behaviour may become a strng professional demand which all "good" journalists would recognise and respect. There might also be enforcement. This is possible through a Press Complaints Commission which was set up after the first Calcutt Report in 1990. It monitors the press according to a Code of Conduct and can decide on complaints from members of the public. In addition, the requirement to abide by the Code is being increasingly wiritten into the terms of employment of journalists.

The death of Princess Diana prompted much commentary about the behaviour of the press. Lord Spencer's letter stated that he had received more than 80,000 letters overwhelmingly backing his calls for press curbs and a privacy law, and spoke of the "torture" that his sister had suffered at the hands of the tabloid press. Lord Spencer, who also met Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, asked for privacy to be recognised as a fundamental human right and said it would be a fitting tribute to his sister if the old ways of tabloid journalism died with her.

The chairman of the Press Complaints Commission's code committee, Sir David English, chairman of Associated Newspapers, read a statement following the meeting:

"The tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales has focused unprecedented public attention on press intrusion, harassment and respect for privacy. As those charged with defining the Code of Practice which sets the benchmarks for the ethical and professional standards of journalism, we recognise this. We are now undertaking an urgent review of the code. As an industry we emphasise the need for the code to be followed not just in the letter but in its full spirit."

The statement was the first industry-wide expression of regret and revulsion following the death of the Princess. Meanwhile, Downing Street refused to comment on Mr Blair's reaction to Lord Spencer's calls for a privacy law. The Prime Minister is known to favour improved self-regulation by the PCC.

In response to this pressure , it was widely reported by the media during the month of September 1997 that respect for the privacy of the individual, already recognised in paragraph 4 of the Code of Practice, was set to be considerably strengthened in the light of the case of Princess Diana. Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, unveiled a series of the most radical changes to press regulation since the inception of the Press Complaints Commission, including proposed rules about an individual's private life, the treatment of children and harassment.

Lord Wakeham said the industry should prohibit publication of pictures obtained through "persistent pursuit" or unlawful behaviour. "I am thinking of pictures obtained by freelancers who break the traffic laws, commit trespass or stalk their prey," he said.

When the proposal was introduced there would "no longer be a market for pictures taken by the sort of photographers who persistently pursued Princess Diana". But he added that the problem remains a global one. The proposals include a new obligation to editors to check how pictures were obtained and measures to prevent so-called media scrums, caused by large numbers of journalists working at the same time. The present section of the code on privacy is expected to be re-drawn, with a definition of an individual's private life for the first time.

Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, welcomed the proposals and indicated that self-regulation, not a privacy law, was the way forward. He said: "We expect newspapers to abide by the undertakings they published after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in the spirit and in letter."

Proposed Changes to the Press Code - the way forward ?

One of the expected changes under discussion is amending "public interest" as a defence for breaching the Code 's protection for privacy to "overriding public interest", thus making it harder for papers to justify any intrusion. Among other things, the new code will also contain a new definition of an individual's private life.

Lord Wakeham stated in a recent speech that 'self regulation, can work for those in the public eye as much as for ordinary people. That, in part, is thanks to the success of the Code of Practice.' He has mentioned some recent examples where self regulation have been successful:

'The responsibility all newspapers have shown in respecting without transgression the privacy of Prince William at Eton; the withdrawal of reporters and photographers from Dunblane in order to leave local people the space they needed to grieve; and the withdrawal of photographers from Balmoral this August allowing members of The Royal Family a private holiday for the first time in more than a decade.'

Lord Wakeham explained why in his views there is a new demand for changes in the current Code of practice:

It is time now for the Code to change again. But I underline that this is not because there is anything wrong with the Code as it stands, or because newspapers do not already operate to high ethical standards. It is to meet the expectations of the public and the sincere demands of editors - the twin pillars on which effective self regulation stands.

As for the problem of paparazzi, Lord Wakeham proposed that the industry should amend Clause 8(i) of its Code to prohibit the publication of pictures obtained through 'persistent pursuit' or as a result of any 'unlawful behaviour'. He referred particularly to the pictures obtained by freelancers who break the traffic laws, or who commit trespass or who stalk their prey. 'There will, therefore, no longer be a market in this country for pictures taken by the sort of photographers who persistently pursued Princess Diana. Motorbike chases, stalking and hounding are unacceptable - and editors who carry pictures obtained by them will be subjected to the severest censure by the PCC.'

The current version of the Press Complaints Commission's Code of Practice defines privacy as follows:

4. Privacy

i) Intrusions and enquiries into an individual's private life without his or her consent, including the use of long-lens photography to take pictures of people on private property without their consent, are only acceptable when it can be shown that these are, or are reasonably believed to be, in the public interest.

ii) Publication of material obtained under i) above is only justified when the facts show that the public interest is served.

Note - Private property is defined as i) any private residence, together with its garden and outbuildings, but excluding any adjacent fields or parkland and the surrounding parts of the property within the unaided view of passers-by, ii) hotel bedrooms (but not other areas in a hotel) and iii) those parts of a hospital or nursing home where patients are treated or accommodated.

According to Lord Wakeham, the above 'privacy' provisions are tough and have been effective in squeezing out of most publications the unacceptable intrusions into the lives of ordinary people that occurred too regularly a decade ago. But Lord Wakeham thought there are two ways in which the code could be further strengthened - both matters of definition:

'First, there is a general acceptance among editors that the definition of private property in the Code is far too tight - and it does not cover a number of those places such as the inside of a Church or a restaurant where individuals might have a legitimate expectation of privacy. We need to change that. I would therefore like the Code Committee to expand the definition of private property to include those 'public places' where individuals might rightly expect to be free from media attention.'

'Secondly, I think the Code should also set out briefly to define those areas which constitute a 'private life' - for instance, a person's health, his or her home life and family relationships, and personal correspondence. Although a definition could never be comprehensive, and in many ways would act only as a guide, I think it will be a sure signal to the public about those areas of an individual's life which newspaper editors value and which they will respect. It will represent a significant tightening of the Code.'

Lord Wakeham's final conclusion was that the new Code would be the toughest set of industry regulations anywhere in Europe.

'It is doing far more than legislation ever could. You are right to put your trust in effective self regulation.'

See Press Complaints Commission web pages

See the full text of a speech by The Rt Hon Lord Wakeham at a press conference on 25th September 1997.

See also some extracts from a speech by the Rt Hon Lord Wakeham, Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission 9th September, 1997.

The Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice

See also the Press Complaints Commission document, About Self-Regulation and Scrutiny of Press Self-Regulation.

The National Union of Journalists Code of Practice

See also the House of Commons, Library Research Papers, The Human Rights Bill [HL], Bill 119 of 1997/98: privacy and the press, No: 98/25, February 1998.

Conclusion - Privacy at Last ?

The incorporation of the Convention

The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights including article 8 on privacy and article 10 on freedom of expression is expected to take place following the introduction of the Human Rights Bill [H.L.], in the House of Lords on 23 October 1997. (See - Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill). The UK Government also launched a White Paper - Rights Brought Home: The Human Rights Bill, CM 3782, London: HMSO, October 1997. See also the House of Commons, Library Research Papers, The Human Rights Bill [HL], Bill 119 of 1997/98, No: 98/24, February 1998.

Article 8 of the ECHR, Right to respect for private and family life states that:

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

There were also calls or the drafting of a European Convention on Privacy by the members of the 40-nation Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly following Princess Diana's death. A motion tabled by David Atkinson (UK-EDG) was signed by members of the Political Affairs Committee from all political groups across Europe. The MPs voiced their alarm at the continued intrusion into personal privacy in member states - in violation of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Assembly’s Bureau has referred the matter to its Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee with a view towards drafting such a convention. The draft would have to include, among its principles, the protection of privacy of lawful behaviour from photography without approval or permission, the motion states. (See the October 1997 edition of Europa40plus, Council of Europe's electronic newspaper)

Will it make a difference for the Royal Princes?

It was agreed by the newspaper editors in 1995 that they would not purchase paparazzi photographs of the Princes. Following their mother's death newspaper editors admit that William and Harry will not want to pose for them in the foreseeable future as it was agreed to satisfy the public interest in occasional photocalls.

Lord Spencer demanded at Princess Diana's funeral that 'her beloved boys' should be protected from suffering a similar fate and he was backed up by the Prime Minister and Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Press Complaint Commission. Lord Wakeham stated that the 'combination of changes will tackle some of the unacceptable intrusions that do from time to time occur, and extend to all children that degree of privacy I would expect for the Royal Princes. According to Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, the press would face an immediate test in the way in which it handled Prince William and Prince Harry.

In the US President Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, will be shielded from photographers and the media during her student life in the university. Chelsea has recently started to study at the Stanford University, near San Francisco. Her pictures were taken on her arrival to the university but according to an official, after the Princess Diana situation, 'they are sure the press will take pains not to be intrusive.'

Space for your views at the Readers Corner

UK Law Online project will publish your own views on our current legal issues topics. If you send us an e-mail at we will put your views on this subject in a seperate page which will be linked to these pages.

Further Resources

See the archieves of online newspapers such as The Electronic Telegraph, The Times, and The Guardian to find all the relevant news items. We suggest a word search such as 'Princess Diana and privacy laws and/or press freedom' would be useful.

Helen Searls, The rights and wrongs of privacy, LM Online, October 1997

Max Cacas, The Freedom Forum, Journalists face backlash following Diana's death

Paul McMasters, The Freedom Forum, The princess and the press: How good was the coverage?

See further the following web sites dedicated to Princess Diana

Press Agency NewsCentre Web pages dedicated to Princess Diana.

PA News, Europe puts privacy safeguards high on agenda, October 17, 1997

Diana, Princess of Wales through the Monarchy Web site

The obituary Web pages on Diana, Princess of Wales are the most visited part of the Royal Web site; nearly 580,000 condolence e-mail messages were sent to a special section of the site in the weeks after the Princess's death, and these are being passed to the Princess's family. The Princess's obituary will remain on the Royal Web site as a permanent memorial.

BBC News, Special Report: Diana Remembered

The Queens's message on the 5th September, 1997

ITN News Special, Diana: The Unfolding Tragedy

CNN Special, The Death of Princess Diana, see also The Death of Princess Diana: A Remembrance

In Memory of Princess Diana 1961-1997

Yet another call to ban the cameras

In Memory of Diana, Princess of Wales - a very good site with further links.

Consumers Against Invasion of Privacy call for a worldwide boycott of any media publishing or broadcasting photographs or video of Princess Diana

Yet another memorial to Princess Diana



BBC: Diana: One Year On

A Guardian Special: After Diana. See especially the story on

No one will let the story die while it sells papers

Lyons, P., "Web sites on Diana proliferate as Monday's anniversary of her death nears," Freedom Forum, 28 August, 1998.

Press Association: DIANA: The first anniversary

ITN's Online Tribute to the People's Princess

CNN, The Death of Princess Diana: One Year Later

Frontline Online: The Princess and the Press

People Online: Princess Diana: 1961-1997




Go back to Part I of the Princess Diana, Privacy Laws and Press Freedom in the UK web pages

Go back to UK Law Online Current Legal Issues Pages

Go back to UK Law Online home page.

Last Updated 29 August 1998