Should candid pictures of young royals be banned?
THE Duke and Duchess of Cambridge understandably want to protect their children from paparazzi but freedom of expression also has to be defended in Britain and the rest of the world.
But that is not to say British newspapers will not use similar photos in future, if they can be sure that they were taken without pursuit, harassment, or subterfuge.
By contrast, in the past few months a small number of online and print publications overseas have used a steady stream of pictures of George on trips to parks and other attractions near the Cambridges' two main homes, Kensington Palace in London and Anmer Hall in Norfolk.
The palace alleges some of these have been the result of paparazzi hiding to take the photos.
There's something creepy about a man or woman who hides behind blankets covering their car and takes photographs of little children through a small hole or uses other children to try to draw out their young quarry, as has been alleged.
So far, I'm with the Cambridges but their communications secretary at Kensington Palace, Jason Knauf, went on to say: "They want both children to be free to play in public and semi-public spaces with other children without being photographed."
He talked about "unauthorised" photographs and seemed to suggest that no photographs should be taken without prior consent.
Some schools and other institutions may ask children to sign consent forms before events at which the media or parents are invited to attend but, contrary to widespread belief, there is no restriction on photographing children in public places - with or without their parents' consent - in Britain.
And so it stands to reason that what William and Kate are suggesting is that there should be a huge change in the law here and around the world - or at least a change in media practice.
Paul Weller, the former Jam singer, and his wife Hannah have campaigned for such a change in the law in this country after going to court in a case where they claimed they were pursued by a photographer in Santa Monica, California, whose pictures subsequently appeared on a British newspaper website (perhaps in breach of that code of practice if the claims of pursuit were true).
But the British Government, echoing my first sentence above, has so far responded by saying there needs to be a balance between the rights of a family and the rights of freedom of expression and the press.
Kensington Palace officials were unclear what exactly the Cambridges were seeking, apart from a dialogue with the national and international media about this issue, but it's important that this is clarified.
Do William and Kate want their children to be treated differently to other children?
Do they want the children of all famous people to be protected from people taking photographs of them out in public?
Or do they want the entire world to ban photographs of children unless their parents have given consent?
In Britain and America in particular, there are some in favour of that latter option, fearing a potential paedophile on every street corner.
It would be wrong in my view to play into the hands of the paranoid and criminalise millions of people who might be attacked or arrested because they had the temerity to include another person's child in a photograph of a tourist attraction, for example.
One of the most powerful arguments deployed by the palace is that the Cambridges want their children to have the freedom to play in public places so that they do not grow up isolated from the people they will one day represent. I get that.
William and Harry are better royals for the experience of having spent time with ordinary people as younger men.
But there are further complications if we are to give special treatment to the royals.
Do we really want to live in a country where if members of the Royal Family walk into your neighbourhood park, you have to turn your back, put down your phone camera and pretend they are not there?
Be honest. What would be your response if William, Kate, and the children walked into your park?
Why do we not see the Queen going shopping down Oxford Street in London's West End or having a walk around the shops in Windsor?
Because she knows that she is one of the most famous women in the world and her presence there would cause mayhem.
When members of the Royal Family go out in public it is often a news event and there has long been recognition in park bylaws, for example, and other spaces such as beaches that photographs taken for editorial use are legitimate.
They are regarded as entirely different from commercial photography such as fashion shoots that often require a license and payment of a fee.
In a sinister attempt to blur the lines, Kensington Palace has increasingly referred to editorial photographers as commercial photographers.
The palace, it has to be said, has also proved unreliable in its attempts to portray just about every single "unauthorised" photograph as unacceptable for one reason or another.
Its complaints often lack credibility.
Then we come onto another argument that is important for our democracy.
Why, for example, should newspapers be able to publish pictures of David and Victoria Beckham out with their children and not pictures of the future King and Queen out with another future King and his sister?
Ah, some people say, the Beckhams are different because their children are part of their very public brand.
And a future King and Princess of Britain and 15 other realms around the world are not?
It's difficult raising some of these issues without being portrayed as some sort of ogre who defends people who stalk children.
Last Friday in a ludicrous article presumably written by a 12-year-old, I was vilified by the online news service Huffington Post when I tried to do so.
Yet I discovered that the Huffington Post, something I've not really read properly before, has an entire section of photographs and stories about celebrity children, illustrated in some cases by paparazzi pictures taken in the street.
As a royal correspondent, I feel conflicted. I don't want to be part of an industry that makes life hell for the people I write about.
They are part of an institution that I believe does a great job for Britain. But I do not believe they should be above criticism, scrutiny or challenge.
After all, they are spending my money every second of the day, not least because they are guarded by taxpayer-funded police officers.
There are many people, for example, who think William and Kate are lazy and should undertake more royal duties. So if they go on holiday that becomes a talking point.
They have based themselves in Norfolk away from their 22-room apartment at Kensington Palace which cost the taxpayer £4.5 million to refurbish for them. Shouldn't the media be examining what they are doing up in Norfolk and asking whether that £4.5 million was a waste of money?
Like most royal reporters and photographers, I don't want to be restricted to portraying the Royal Family completely on their terms, exactly as how they dictate it, "allowing" me to cover just events where they want publicity.
To fulfill my responsibilities towards our readers, I want the freedom to portray them in the way that is closest to the truth and that means, just as a biographer would do, writing about all aspects of their life, not just the small amount of time that they are on public duty or show.
There is no easy answer to all of this but in my view, William and Kate are going to have to give more ground than they are prepared to do at the moment.
Perhaps more regular family photocalls would help to suppress the international market for the candid photographs that are making their lives hell.
But I'm not convinced that would stop foreign media wanting still more. I certainly don't envy the family, that's for sure.
[This is well-thought out piece that reasonably and professionally addresses the situation of taking photographs. Yes, there are laws in the UK regarding harassment, etc., and if a photographer breaks these laws, he or she should be arrested. These days. it is not the long lenses that people should worry about. Anyone with a camera phone can snap a pic.]
My thanks to Richard Palmer for allowing me to reprint his article.