Martin Robbins (@mjrobbins) did a great job of highlighting The Mail Online’s overt sexualisation of children in his column yesterday, but how can a regulatory body deal with parent-managed publicity of children and the media feeding frenzy that ensues?
In his article, Robbins notes that the anti-child exploitation campaigner’s website has run a story roughly every third day of six-year-old Suri Cruise’s life. That includes a shocking 146 while she was five years old and 133 when she was four years old, with the first face-revealing paparazzi photo published just after her first birthday.
However, the first time the child’s photo appeared on the website was as part of a Vanity Fair cover (left, sans black out). The magazine’s fully-endorsed feature ran to some 22 pages and gave the journalist the kind of access that saw her “eat almost every meal” with the family.
At this point, five months since she was born, the lack of baby pictures had led incessant media outlets to question whether there was a child with the Mail’s Femail, for one, asking: “Does Tom Cruise’s baby really exist?”
When it happened the event was perfectly managed, with the photographer, ‘a small crew’, and the magazines fashion and style director on site. According to Google Trends this was when interest in the child peaked in terms of search volume. Not as garish as the Kardashian family, who Robbins points out “live life as low-brow art”, but the result is similar; the material is now in the public domain.
The difficulty Leveson and the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) face, and something I discussed in a recent column, is the relationship between press and celebrity. In the Kardashian’s case it’s symbiotic, verging on parasitic. For the Cruises, they have to publicise details or face the kind of hounding that Homes says “eats away” at her.
The question of whether adults that court the press for their own publicity forego their right to complain when it turns sour is complicated. When it comes to children, it isn’t. The click-hungry Mail and its peers, particularly online, shouldn’t be expected to make a decision based on prior release of information or whether a child welfare is at stake. And, poorly worded guidelines and a hollow enforcement campaign from the PPC won’t make a difference.
What’s needed is an outright ban on photos of children under the age of 16 without the explicit permission from their parents or guardians. Okay, so we would still have the Vanity cover and squeals of publicity from the Kardashians, but it would prevent the kind of ensuing, damaging furore of publicity that Suri has had to endure and provide the opportunity for them to be kept from the public eye entirely.
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