Privacy as a PR issue reminds me of nitroglycerin. Sooner or later
it will blow up in your face. Those who come to us as PROs seeking
protection from an intrusive media usually have something to hide. Those
who pry into other people’s privacy invariably have an ulterior motive -
the media’s is commerce. And the public are all in favour of their own
privacy while lapping up other people’s scandal.
Currently, the issue is all the rage because the Government , it is
alleged, is bringing in a law of privacy. In fact, what its Human Rights
Bill primarily does is to incorporate the European Convention on Human
Rights into British law. All this means is that, if you have enough
money or can find some rich backer, you can get your right to privacy
enforced in our courts without having to go to Strasbourg. In other
words, we have effectively had a legal right of privacy for decades. So
much for Tony Blair saying we aren’t going to have a privacy law.
Article 8 of this splendid convention establishes the right of respect
for private and family life, including one’s home and
It is balanced by Article 10 which provides for a right of free
Hence the need for lawyers and judges to do the balancing -
But it isn’t as irrelevant to the average PR Week reader - measured in
terms of disposable income - as you may imagine. This is because of the
inexpensive Press Complaints Commission (PCC) which, under Lord Wakeham,
is trying to make a success of newspaper self-regulation. The Commission
has latterly - post-Diana - toughened its code of practice to extend the
area deemed to be a private place to protect children and to require
greater sensitivity in handling grief.
Lord Wakeham fears that, under the new law, the PCC will be regarded as
a public authority and could therefore be held responsible in the courts
for failing to observe the Euro-Convention-made-British-law by, for
example, not stopping a newspaper invading an individual’s privacy. But
wouldn’t that ’prior restraint’ amount to censorship? Yet what’s the
point of having self-regulation if it doesn’t work by preventing
invasions of privacy?
Nobody - except perhaps newspaper barons - is going to be impressed with
a PCC which adjudicates after the press has wrongly exposed them.
Lord Wakeham wants the PCC to be excluded from the supervision of the
courts. But that offends one of the basic tenets of journalism which was
dinned into me from the outset of my career - namely that my trade
should have n o rights or obligations beyond those of the ordinary
citizen. If all this doesn’t convince you that privacy is dynamite,