For about 15 years I have publicly argued that the British media
are abusing their power. Latterly, I have attracted a certain odium for
criticising the sorely lamented Princess Diana’s damagingly
opportunistic approach to the media. For just as long I warned her that
those who live by publicity tend to die by it.
That was never meant to be taken literally. Yet now it seems that she
has been hounded to her death by the paparazzi, those international
mercenaries who wage unrelenting war on celebrities’ privacy. Her
brother, Earl Spencer, claimed that ’every proprietor and editor of
every publication that has paid for intrusive and exploitative
photographs of her ... has blood on their hands today’.
True. But what about the rest of us who have stoked that market with our
insatiable appettite for pictures, gossip and scandal about our very own
international star? This is not the time for hypocritical
We are all guilty. And broadsheet editors should remember this when they
look down their noses at the smelly tabloids. Which of them has never
used a paparazzi picture of the Princess? Let him throw the first
All my inclinations are to find a way of protecting the privacy of
individuals, high or low, if they want to preserve it. It is clear that
Princess Diana only wished to preserve it to suit her convenience or
whim. It is also clear that we simply cannot return, even if we wished
to do so, to the days, as in the 1930s, when British editors kept mum
about a gathering abdication crisis. Technology has put paid to that.
The ’news’ would arrive by internet, satellite and foreign magazines fed
by the paparazzi who chased Princess Diana in Paris, the capital of one
of the more legalistically private nations in the Western world.
Nor is it possible to contemplate a privacy law which protects public
men and women who seek public office on a morality platform while at the
same time, or subsequently, they pursue immoral lives. That would be a
contemptible law. That is why we have always provided for a ’public
interest’ defence whenever we have thought about privacy legislation.
But how do you distinguish in law the public interest from the public’s
interest in tittle tattle and pictures of intimate private moments?
Perhaps, when ashes have gone to ashes and dust to dust, the Prime
Minister should publicly shame the media proprietors into greater
restraint. For, make no bones about it, those who define company policy
and commercial parameters have it in their power to deal with the
problem, provided they act together. But this would only lessen it
because we are only part of an international market. Who’s next for