Media hysteria has made evasive action a must for sensitive issues

The handling of Linda McCartney’s death and the shipment of a small amount of uranium from Tbilisi, Georgia, to Scotland raise serious questions for PROs and journalists. Both had one thing in common: an attempt to avoid the hysterical interest of the media in celebrities and all things nuclear.

The handling of Linda McCartney’s death and the shipment of a small

amount of uranium from Tbilisi, Georgia, to Scotland raise serious

questions for PROs and journalists. Both had one thing in common: an

attempt to avoid the hysterical interest of the media in celebrities and

all things nuclear.



First, the background. Sir Paul, we are told, let it be known that his

wife had died in Santa Barbara instead of at their Arizona ranch so that

the family could grieve undisturbed. The British Government claims that

it was for security reasons that it kept secret - until an American leak

blew the gaff - its deal to take custody of about ten pounds of

ex-Communist uranium to prevent it from falling into the hands of

terrorists.



And the consequences? The McCartneys preserved their privacy - if that

is how to describe media bulletins about Sir Paul’s feelings and

releases from family photo albums - but brought down on themselves

conspiracy theories about euthanasia. They stoked the media’s prurience.

The Government installed the uranium and a bit of nuclear waste inside

the Dounreay plant with no more inconvenience than a few boring pictures

of a nuclear container travelling through Caithness. But it was roundly

condemned by leader writers for its secrecy and will probably not be

trusted again on nuclear matters, if it ever was.



On this basis, both the McCartneys and the Government can argue that

their overriding objectives were secured. If their PR aim was to keep

control of the situation, they succeeded admirably. Indeed, the

McCartneys kept the media eating out of their hands. And the Government

avoided the lie-down protests by greenwar activists who need time to

mobilise their media and choreograph their demonstrations for our TV

screens. Both can probably live with the downsides.



What’s more, Mr and Mrs Joe Bloggs probably have every sympathy with the

McCartneys and the Government. They don’t see why families shouldn’t

utter little white lies to protect themselves from the ratpack or, even

if they have been brainwashed against nuclear energy, why the Government

shouldn’t keep mum about its removal of potentially destructive material

from the terrorist black market in secret - at least until it is safely

stored in Scotland.



Having said all that, I would prefer to live in a society where the

McCartneys and the Government could be open and respectively grieve and

behave sensibly without having to run the gauntlet of a media which not

only seek to report the facts but provide the opportunity, where they

don’t encourage it, for all kinds of photogenic stunts. But that is not

the real world in which we live. The media positively encourage

subterfuge. They are in no position to grumble about it - but they will,

endlessly.



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