Warning: privacy law could jeopardise the iconic news pictures of the future

The iconic news pictures which make up our historic record could be under threat from increasing privacy laws.

This was the stark warning issued by media lawyer Rupert Grey in Press Gazette this week.

His views have been backed up by veteran Fleet Street photographer Paul Stewart who fears that many of his best photos would be under threat by encroaching privacy legislation if taken today.

Stewart said: ‘What you can and can’t use is becoming a great worry. Can you or can’t you use pictures, even when you have shot people in a public place? You have to use a lot more thought before you can use pictures.”

Stewart cited one example of a photo he took on the roof of a London hospital in 1991 of an air ambulance doctor performing open heart surgery as a picture which might run into legal problems today (see right).

He said: ‘I had permission to be there from the hospital, but I didn’t have the victim’s permission to publish the photo – could that have been published today? I don’t know.”

Stewart said it was a ‘moot point’whether a picture he took in the mid-Nineties of the first armed policewoman would be allowed today.

‘A couple of months ago, I was taking pictures of a police raid and one of the police told me I wasn’t allowed to take photographs of them because of their right to privacy,’he said.

‘Heritage wardens have said: ‘You’re not allowed to take commercial photographs in Trafalgar Square without permission’. It’s not supposed to include press photography – but I think it could be only a matter of time before I am there photographing demonstrators and I get stopped by one of them.”

Stewart cited another occasion when he was taking photographs of the Department for Constitutional Affairs from the street outside when he was told by two Police Community Support Officers that he wasn’t allowed to take pictures of public buildings.

He said: ‘The problem with privacy is there are no clear guidelines there – the issue has become very cloudy.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Caldecott QC has warned that Section 8 of the Human Rights Act (privacy) is winning in British courts against Section 10 (freedom of expression).

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