Has the media totally forgotten the concept of privacy?

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.

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

wife.



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

complaining.



They were lying on public sands - or, at least, sands in full view of

the public.



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

publicity.



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

publicity.



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

Green.



The media went berserk and even photographed themselves coming to

blows.



For journalists’ own safety, the PCC will soon have to pronounce on

media mobbing and stalking. Privacy is becoming a dangerous business.



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