It’s been a favourite lecture of exasperated parents for generations: young children should be seen and not heard. Now some are saying they shouldn’t be seen either. Not in the pages of newspapers, anyway.
Across the country, press photographers are finding that the traditionally straightforward assignments at school fetes, Christmas plays and sports days are turning into nightmares of red tape. They’re being told by headteachers, education departments and club administrators that any pictures of children they take can only be used in the paper with the express permission of their parents.
What a nonsense. How realistic is it to expect that a school class of 30 kids will all bring their signed consent forms in on the day of the picture? How many of them will remember to take them home in the first place?
Already, staff snappers are having to leave tearful young footballers out of the team picture because Mum and Dad weren’t at the match to give their permission. And puzzled readers are wondering why that school nativity scene is missing Joseph and several of the angels and shepherds.
Photographers have even been prevented from taking pictures in hospital children’s wards of the kids opening the Christmas presents donated by a charity.
Weekly newspapers, in particular, are nothing without the names and faces of the people in their community. These are the pictures that proud parents and grandparents have always rushed out to buy their local paper to see – and have proudly showed off to their friends and family.
What’s behind this latest madness? Once again the Data Protection Act – surely one of the most misinterpreted pieces of legislation in history – is being trundled out in justification. That and the all-pervading fear that paedophiles are crowding outside every school gate in the country, brandishing a copy of the local Gazette to somehow use for their sinister purposes.
And once the "p" word appears, common sense flies out of the window.
Certainly, schools, sports clubs and hospitals have a duty to ensure the safety of the children in their care.
But erasing a generation of children from the pages of our newspapers is not the way to go about it.