.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A question of balance

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton has leapt feet first into the controversy surrounding the award of £60,000 in damages to Max Mosley for breach of privacy after the News of the World published details of a sado-masochistic orgy the formula One boss participated in.

In today's News of the World Carey argues that the ruling set a "dangerous precedent" and undermined public morality. The noble Lord believes that the outcome of this court case created 'a new privacy law, which undermined press freedom.

He said the judgment made ‘unspeakable and indecent behaviour’ no longer significant and prevented investigations by the media into matters of public interest.

“If a politician, a judge, a bishop or any public figure cannot keep their promises to wife, husband, etc, how can they be trusted to honour pledges to their constituencies and people they serve?"

He said the ruling shackled the press and removed the right of the public to make informed moral judgements.

“This is a bleak, deeply-flawed "anything goes" philosophy. It is also dangerous and socially undermining, devoid of the basic, decent moral standards that form the very fabric of our society.”

He is joined in this nonsense by most of the press, who are suddenly facing the prospect of a lucrative vein of stories drying up. Both they and the former Archbishop are wrong on a number of fundamental points:

Firstly, journalists and editors pretend to be interested in morality and the public interest but in reality their main concern is selling newspapers. They exercise double standards both in what they preach to their readers and in the way they react if it is their privacy that is being threatened. There is no consistency in how they report stories and no underlying principle or philosophy behind their choice of material. They exercise power without responsibility and it is right that they are regulated and have restrictions put on them so to ensure that they do not abuse that position.

Secondly, it is not the business of the fourth estate to tell us how to live our lives any more than it is that of the Lord Archbishop. It is an historical fact that 'the moral standards that form the very fabric of our society' follow the trends of the day, they are not immutable nor are they absolute.

People have the right to privacy and to live as they wish irrespective of their position in society. The only caveat I would add is that we should be free from undue interference by others and that we should not have our own rights and freedoms impugned. As such there are natural limits on our freedom of action. I think it is only reasonable too to suggest that if a somebody takes a position publicly and then acts in a contrary way then they can become fair game. There is nothing in this judgement to undermine such a position.

Thirdly, Lord Carey is wrong in his interpretation of the judgement. As Henry Porter points out in today's Observer there has been much hand-wringing about the freedom of the press. 'Most of it is self-serving. The damage to the press has not been done by Mosley, or the law, but by the practices of the News of the World. The public-interest defence still remains, but because of the Mosley case, newspapers are now going to have to justify such exposés under the chilly gaze of Mr Justice Eady and the accumulation of privacy law.' That can only be a good thing. It is a shame that Lord Carey does not agree.

Henry Porter argues that haphazardly building a law of privacy in a limited sphere of interest leaves us exposed to intrusions by the state that also have the impact of restricting our freedoms. He cites a number of examples, many of which have been referred to on this blog before, including government plans to legislate to give the state access to every email, phone call, text message and internet connection made in this country.

His case is that we need a comprehensive privacy law that covers the shenanigans of government as well as the press. He is right. It is the only way forward that can ensure that a satisfactory and logical balance is struck between the rights of the individual and the needs of the state. It is the only way to simultaneously protect us from both the over-zealousness of the News of the World and those who do have both power and responsibility, but do not understand how to exercise it so as to fulfil their obligations to the democratic process that put them in that position in the first place.
Good post peter. All of the press' interests are to sell newspapers. The Bishop of St. Davids was unnecessarily hassled with front pages of 'latest rumours about the bishop' . I think it temporarily destroyed his life. He has recovered since with another post. Its delinquent journalism in the quest to sell.
This sort of' bullying' by the press on individuals is unethical and people should see through this.
Henry Porter is right about the balance needed. A comprehensive privacy law would go towards this.
Newspaper should aim to be informative, educational and provoke intelligent debate. Not gossip or bad feeling.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?