Sunday, 11 November 2007

Media Excesses

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.


  1. I fully support your call to curb journalists' excessive incursion into private lives of individuals. It becomes even more sickening when the information we get from journalists is merely speculative. Majority of the reading public are not so discerning as to query the validity of a journalist's texts in the newspapers. Freedom of expression should not include freedom of undue harassment by journalists. Moral damages done may not be reversible in some societies.

  2. Whilst I agree with you that the press is berating a lot of the issues especially when it involves a celebrity, it should be known that one of the key in journalism is to sell the paper publishng the story. Like the old adage, "When a dog bites a person, it is not news but when a person bites a dog, it is news". Any issue about a celebrity is good news that helps to sell the news paper.

  3. I think I agree with Steve on that. Maybe the saying will come handy here that "To whom much is given, much is expected". Not only should we enjoy the fame and affluence that comes with stardom, we should expect to pay some price, least of which should be a decorum befitting a public figure.

  4. CC Ugbor...:

    By objective reporting, good journalists present facts as they are to the public and allow individuals to have unbiased view of the issues as they are. This way, individuals and societies are supposed to get the right information that will enlightenment them on matters that affect them and hence “build up” the society rather than “destroy” or afflict it. However, it is often very disappointing when the very people whose interests are supposed to be protected are unfortunate victims of “junk” journalism or “antagonistic” journalism. The practice whereby a media is “bought” by an individual or a group to help steer or coerce the unsuspecting public into accepting or adopting a “wrong” idea or concept on an issue is overly unfortunate and condemnable. Appropriate legislation, should therefore be made to put this practice in check. I therefore agree with the writer that those who engage in this wrong practice should be brought to book. To this end appropriate law enforcement agents should be empowered enough to wake up to their responsibility by prosecuting offenders before the society degenerates into avoidable crises capable of “tearing it apart” in future, while appropriate compensation paid to assuage the feelings of the already affected individuals. The journalism community is also encouraged to uphold and abide by the ethics of their profession.
    I commend the writer for such an excellent analysis.

  5. The press, as the fourth estate of the realm, has a role to play in educating the public. While I agree that their excesses should be curbed, I do not subscribe to their being gagged or unduely restricted in carrying out their duties. For instance, Diana was a public figure, probably maintained with tax payers money (as a member of the Royal family) who had a responsibility to use her position to show good moral example to the public. Unfortunately, she mis-used this opportunity. So, shouldn't the press help the public know what she did and probably why she did it ?

  6. Everything comes at a price: including fame/the media. One cannot survive without the other. Just maintain balance.

  7. I agree with the standpoint of the article that there are present day media excesses, which are not leading us anywhere good.
    However, one must look at the fact of who buys such papers? Memebers of the public. Even the so called 'media' is made up of individual members of the public like us.
    Thus, most likely, the more macabre stories saturating today's journalistic world are simply a reflection of the decay in morals, ethics, and proper focus in our societies.
    Or did the media 50 years ago write like this?