Media owners must act together now to reduce invasion of privacy

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.

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

recriminations.



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

stone.



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

stalking?



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