This week the media had a field day when Heather Mills openly criticised it on GMTV’s breakfast show. Paul McCartney’s estranged wife complained about abusive press coverage. She compared her treatment at the hands of the media to that of Kate McCann, the mother of missing Madeleine, and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Unfortunately the media responded with further criticism and derision. If Heather Mills was expecting sympathy she’ll be largely disappointed at their response. There were a few considerate responses, but most hit back with scathing comments.
But Ms Mills doesn’t seem to be beaten back by the antagonism. The anti-fur campaigner said she had launched a petition at the European Parliament to strengthen the law against "a specific portion of the media" which pursued her relentlessly. She even returned to GMTV’s sofa to say how cathartic her outburst proved.
Till I began studying print journalism, I tried to avoid the red tops. And that’s because their level of intrusion into the lives of public figures is deeply worrying. I can’t understand the fervid interest in the trivial details of a celebrity’s life. Why must we get a minute by minute update of Britney Spear’s breakdown? Why must we follow the McCann’s voyeuristically?
Princess Diana is another salient example. It’s been over ten years since she died yet the media will not relinquish their salacious coverage of the night she died. Now it’s not only about who killed her, the interest seems to have shifted to how she died. Details about what happened moments before her death, how she locked fingers with Mohammed Al Fayed and so on keep surfacing.
What’s worse, people are no longer encouraged to be sympathetic or considerate. Rather we should poke fun at helpless individuals because they are celebrities. What type of morals are we trying to promote in our society?
I fully support Heather Mills when she said: "What are we doing as a nation buying these newspapers? We need to force a change as a responsible nation.''
What exactly has happened to the media in Britain? What is the purpose of the media?
Judith Lichtenberg, co-author of ‘Democracy and the Mass Media’ regards objectivity as the cornerstone of the professional ideology of journalists in liberal democracies. She says, “As a journalistic virtue, objectivity requires that reporters do not let their preconceptions cloud their vision,” (Lichtenberg in Curran and Gurevitch, 2000, p.252). This does not mean that they have no pre-assumptions but it is important that they do not draw upon this within their writing, but base their articles upon facts.
Lichtenberg suggests Journalists strive to present all sides of a debate with equal credibility.
And that’s what the Press Complaints Commission strives to do through its regulation of the Press. But it is only voluntary. If Papers break its code it has no power to punish them.
Under its privacy code:
Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications. Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent
Exceptions to this code are on grounds of ‘public interest’. The PCC states:
There may be exceptions to the clauses where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to: i) Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety. ii) Protecting public health and safety. iii) Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
But I’d like to know how telling us, for instance, Diana’s dying words works in the public interest. Personally, I would like to see the media’s excesses curbed. The PCC should be given more powers to prosecute offending papers. If this doesn’t happen I fear what will become of the media in this country. Someone has to draw the line.