Princess Diana & the paparazzi: How Princess of Wales' untimely death led to changes in UK & US press conduct
It was found that the actions of the papparazi contributed to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, leading to changes in the conduct of the press
Everybody knows the story of the late Princess of Wales, mother of Prince William and Prince Harry. She is widely regarded as the people's princess, though her marriage to King Charles ended in divorce. She is remembered for her kindness, her charity work, and her head-turning fashion choices. During her life, she passionately campaigned for causes she believed in, both inside and outside of her own family, and was determined to find comfortable homes for all young people and put an end to youth homelessness, just as much as she did everything she could to give her own sons a normal upbringing, away from scrutiny.
Sadly, alongside her fantastic legacy, Princess Diana will also always be remembered for the way she died. It was on August 31, 1997, when she was killed in a high speed car crash in Paris, France. She was just 36. She was travelling in a car with her partner, Dodi Fayed, which was being followed by members of the paparazzi. The driver of the car, Henri Paul, lost control of the car and crashed. Diana, Fayed and and Paul all died as a result of the crash. Dodi's bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, who had also been travelling with them in the car, was seriously injured, but was the only survivor of the crash.
In the days and weeks that followed, some people blamed the paparazzi for the crash, claiming it was because they had been chasing the car when the accident happened. In 1999, however, a French investigation found that Paul lost control of the vehicle at high speed while intoxicated by alcohol and under the effects of prescription drugs, and concluded that he was solely responsible for the crash. However, in 2008, a jury at the British inquest, Operation Paget, returned a verdict of unlawful killing through grossly negligent driving by Paul and the following paparazzi vehicles.
No matter what the official findings about the crash, one thing is certain - the death of Diana changed the public's perception of the paparazzi, but also lead to the change in some laws regarding how members of the media are allowed to behave and the things they are allowed to do. Here we take a look at those changes.
Journalists must not engage in persistent pursuit
One change to the paparazzi's conduct after the incident is not law, but is included in a very important ethical code for journalists and came from within the industry itself. The Press Complaints Comission (PCC), a UK self-regulatory body, that has a code of conduct for newspapers and magazines to follow, added a clause about harassment shortly after Diana's death in an attempt to prevent another tragedy from happening again.
It reads: "Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment, or persistent pursuit. They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing, or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on their property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent." This clause remains in place today, and the code of conduct is reviewed regularly and updated as required. Broadcast journalists must also follow a similar code of conduct.
From January 1998, the use of long-lens photography “to take pictures of people in private places without their consent” was deemed “unacceptable” by the code of conduct also. In addition, a change was made to the code to define precisely what constituted private places for the first time, and that was deemed to be “public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy”. This clause is still in place today.
Diana also inspired one of the biggest amendments to the code, which looked at the protection of children’s privacy - something Diana had long fought for. The protection of privacy provided in the code was extended to all children while they were in education, rather than just those under the age of 16. A requirement was also added, which stated: “Where material about the private life of a child is published, there must be justification for publication other than the fame, notoriety or position of his or her parents or guardian.
This was “introduced simply because of the way in which Harry, and particularly William, were being pursued while they were at school,” Mike Dodd, the Press Association news agency’s in-house media law specialist, told TIME. Where the royals specifically are concerned, British press generally respect what a media law specialist Mark Stephens has dubbed the ‘red carpet rule’. This is an unofficial agreement with the royal family that photographing them during an official engagement is acceptable, but there is an expectation of privacy for them at other times.
Princess Diana may have been British, but she became a global icon in her lifetime. For that reason, her death had repercussions outside of the UK. In the United States, California passed the nation's first anti-paparazzi law in 1998 as a direct reaction to her death.
The law prevented photographers from trespassing on private property to gain photos. The law wouldn't have prevented Diana's death as she died in a public place, but the change in the law was recognition of the fact that people have a right to a private life. In the years that followed, the law was strengthened to help stop troubling situations happening at all, no matter on public or private land.
In 2005, a clause was added stating that photographers cannot make physical contact with their subjects. Five years later, in 2010, a law was passed to prevent paparazzi from driving recklessly in pursuit of a photo, something that many believe was created as a direct result of Diana's death. This law was deemed unconstitutional by a court in 2012, but that ruling was overturned by an appellate court in 2015, and the law is still in effect today.