Why the PCC loses its way by calling for court exclusion

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.

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

correspondence.



It is balanced by Article 10 which provides for a right of free

expression.



Hence the need for lawyers and judges to do the balancing -

expensively.



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,

nothing will.



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