Sensationalism is winning out over voluntary codes of privacy

On my annual visit to the Moscow School of Political Studies, I was asked to talk to Russian MPs and others connected with the governance of the country about where the media is going in the West. Concentrating on Britain, I reminded them that our blessed state of freedom meant that our media were free to be wrong, misguided, stupid, unfair, intrusive and irresponsible. Among other things, they were currently testing the voluntary code on privacy, toughened in the wake of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, to destruction.

On my annual visit to the Moscow School of Political Studies, I was

asked to talk to Russian MPs and others connected with the governance of

the country about where the media is going in the West. Concentrating on

Britain, I reminded them that our blessed state of freedom meant that

our media were free to be wrong, misguided, stupid, unfair, intrusive

and irresponsible. Among other things, they were currently testing the

voluntary code on privacy, toughened in the wake of the death of Diana,

Princess of Wales, to destruction.



How prophetic can you get? On the flight back home I discovered, from

the newspapers still handed out by British Airways in spite of its

plummeting profits, that the Murdoch press was invading everybody’s

privacy - England RU captain, Lawrence Dallaglio’s by entrapment;

comedian Lenny Henry’s and retired cricketer Ian Botham’s, presumably by

stalking; and that of Sophie Rhys-Jones, Prince Edward’s bride-to-be, by

publishing an 11-year-old topless picture of her obtained by crossing

her ’friend’s’ palm with pounds 100,000 worth of silver. Then the News

of the World followed up its ’exposure’ of Dallaglio with that of an

alleged dalliance by Shane Warne, the Australian cricket captain.



I am not aware that Dallaglio, Henry, Botham, Warne or Rhys-Jones have

made a name for themselves as morality campaigners. They are not prime

candidates for exposure as hypocrites. They may have behaved foolishly,

but that has never been a reasonable excuse for invading an individual’s

privacy. I cannot for the life of me discover the slightest

justification in terms of the public interest - as distinct from the

public’s undoubted prurient interest in other people’s lives - for this

catalogue of ’sin’.



No doubt the Press Complaints Commission will further enlighten us,

though it clearly has a problem since Les Hinton, executive chairman of

Mr Murdoch’s News International, is chairman of the PCC’s code

committee. Did he tacitly or actively countenance his newspaper’s

exploitation of ’scandal’? And did he approve of the Sun editor’s

tastelessly insouciant response, having been condemned by the Palace for

’premeditated cruelty’? We should be told.



Which takes me back to Moscow. I also stressed for the members of the

Duma the commercial nature of our media with its implications for

trivialisation and sensationalism. In John Major’s day, Tory MPs,

however utterly obscure , were made to satisfy the market. Now that the

press panders to Mr Blair, who has declared illicit sex not to be a

political failing - witness Robin Cook - celebrities have to meet the

need. They don’t come much more cynical than newspapers. And what, if

anything, is their privacy code worth now?



As PROs who are clearly needed for celebrity protection duties, we need

to know.



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