Interview: Clive Soley and Anna McKane
Clive Soley and Anna McKane on free speech and privacy.
Clive Soley and Anna McKane were interviewed as part of the spiked-report Restraint or Revelation? Free speech and privacy in a confessional age.
Clive Soley, Labour MP
How do I view the Human Rights Act in terms of negotiating free speech and people’s privacy? Without a body of law, the balance [between the two rights] is still not clear. In terms of media intrusiveness, there is too much intrusiveness about sex and not enough serious on corruption, especially in the private sector. And, who investigates the press?
How should we judge the news value of stories such as celebrities voluntarily confessing the details of their private life or media revelations of the private lives of public figures? This is OK for entertainment and with consent. The line between publicity about private and public life in the media should be drawn by a pro-active PCC which takes a view.
Anna McKane, lecturer at the Department of Journalism, City University, London. She has worked on regional newspapers and as a political correspondent and chief sub-editor at Reuters.
With regards to the Human Rights Act’s negotiation of free speech and privacy rights, I think the press should be self-regulating. However I think the PCC remit should be changed so that any member of the public can complain about a story. At present, only the individual involved in the report can complain. For example, with the Advertising Standards Authority, anyone can complain and this should be the case with the press, as sometimes an offensive story does not have a specific ‘victim’.
Famous people, in whatever walk of life, ought to have privacy in their own homes and lives, but the difficult is that very often famous people – both showbiz and politicians – use their families to gain positive publicity, but then are not happy about negative publicity. It is very common for minor celebs to ring up gossip columns frequently with titbits that they want to see in the paper but they then complain when pieces they don’t like appear. They can’t have it both ways.
The prime minister, for example, uses his family regularly for press shots, which are clearly intended by him and his advisers to project a certain image of him. These young people are therefore put into the public eye by the prime minister himself, so there can be no complaint when they end up in the papers in other stories. There have been examples of the Blair children appearing at a celeb launch party where they would not be if it were not that their dad is PM. This is wrong. In general people in the public eye and whose lives depend on being in the public eyes must take the rough with the smooth.
Are the media over-intrusive? Occasionally the press oversteps the mark such as the topless holiday photo of the Countess of Wessex. But the furore was enough of a punishment to the Sun.
How should we judge the news values of stories involving celebrity confessions about their private life, or media revelations about private lives of public figures? There is an increasing and unwelcome obsession with details of the private lives of the famous and this has reached down to such minor celebs that is has become ridiculous. There are many reasons for this but probably the main one is simply the size of newspaper now. They have to fill with something.
Even in the broadsheets there are now many stories on the news pages about the rich and famous. This has had a bad effect on the diary columns. 20 years ago, say, Jerry Hall’s divorce might have made a jokey diary piece in The Times. Now it fills nearly a complete news page. I doubt many readers are that interested.
The press should draw the line between private and public life in the media, in the form of the PCC. If the celebs themselves had more sense that would help. Why on earth say on TV that your husband likes wearing your knickers? I would be very much against any regulation by other bodies, such as the legal system or parliament, as this would be certain to be abused.
Clive Soley and Anna McKane answered a LIRE media group questionnaire on free speech, privacy and human rights.
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