Three recent media images have disturbed all who try to manage an
increasingly preposterous media. They illustrate the problems associated
with privacy which represented 15 per cent of the complaints
investigated by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) last year.
Take, first, those pictures of our slightly plumper than I had imagined
former Prime Minister, John Major patting his wife’s bottom on a holiday
beach. What public interest - as distinct from public prurience - was
served by their publication? They were never likely to lead to the
detection or exposure of a crime or serious misdemeanour, to protect
public health or safety or prevent the public from being misled by some
Major statement or action. I am not aware that Mr Major has boasted he
was as thin as a lath or denied he was on tactile terms with his
Their publication thus failed the three key tests of the PCC code of
practice. But there is not much point in Mr and Mrs Major
They were lying on public sands - or, at least, sands in full view of
The media only grants you privacy - and only if you insist upon it - if
you are at home or in its outbuildings or garden, in a hotel bedroom or
being treated in hospital.
In short, the media has a narrow concept of your privacy. This is
presumably how the also plumper than I imagined Princess Diana likes it,
cuddling up to Mr al Fayed, of Harrods, on his yacht, and disporting
herself in a variety of swimming costumes before the media and even
taking a boat to talk to them.
The Princess of Wales has long since traded in her privacy for
Of course, her seeking it and putting her private life into the public
domain in the past do not mean that she and her family are completely
open house. But the PCC has made it clear, in a judgment affecting Julia
Carling, erstwhile wife of the former England rugby captain, that people
cannot rely on its protection when they open up their private lives to
Mr Major and Princess Diana illuminate some of the problems of
preserving your privacy if you want to do so in this media-ridden age
Former defence minister Jonathan Aitken confirms the formidable
difficulty of making your re-entry into society after being disgraced.
Naively, he tried to get the media to ’call off the dogs’ outside his
home by offering to be photographed walking across nearby College
The media went berserk and even photographed themselves coming to
For journalists’ own safety, the PCC will soon have to pronounce on
media mobbing and stalking. Privacy is becoming a dangerous business.