It has not been an easy ride for the Press Complaints Commission in upholding a complaint against The Daily Telegraph and delaying a decision on the Daily Mail for revealing to which Oxford college Prime Minister’s son Euan Blair had applied.
Telegraph editor Charles Moore has been pressing his defence to the point where the whole complaint had to be sent back to the commission a second time after the teenager appeared in the media accompanied by actress Kate Winslet, thus giving the newspaper a chance to argue that he was putting himself in the public eye.
Then, when the matter was finally resolved and the decision dispatched to the Telegraph and Mail by courier last Friday, the former said it had not received it until Monday and was irate that it had appeared in other newspapers before it had a chance to publish it or been given the customary seven days to dispute any points of fact.
Moore has since said he believes there is real difficulty in defining where the privacy of the Blair children begins and ends, particularly compared with different standards applied to Prince Harry.
"I hope the industry can clarify these matters in the coming weeks," he said. No one is better placed to help this process than Moore who sits on the Editors’ Code Committee.
The Prime Minister and his wife had complained that the articles in December contained information about the private life of their son Euan which unnecessarily intruded into his time at school and only written because of the position of his parents.
The Telegraph argued that the story was not about Euan but about the choices that the Prime Minister and his wife made about their children’s education and that it was in the public interest.
The Mail pointed out that the story was already in the public domain and when one of its reporters phoned the Downing Street press office, it had no comment to make. At no time did the press office indicate that the story was considered to be intrusive. Had it done so the matter would have been referred to the editor for further consideration.
The commission applied a simple test – whether a national or local newspaper would normally publish such an article if the child was not related to famous parents. It noted that while the Telegraph article might appear to be a trivial diary piece, it raised important matters of principle and took into account damage possible from future coverage flowing from the article. The effect of this piece had been to thrust Euan Blair’s university entrance procedures into the public eye in a way which could damage both his education and welfare.
The commission felt there were clear differences between the Telegraph and Mail articles. It decided the Mail, too, had breached the code, but because of mitigating factors, it has allowed the paper to seek a resolution with the Blairs. If the Mail does not resolve the complaint to the commission’s satisfaction, the latter will issue a separate adjudication.
By Jean Morgan