Sunday, 11 January 2009

Manufacturing Offense

Two of the biggest news stories of the weekend were a) the internet broadcast of a video in which Prince Harry is reportedly seen making racist comments and b) the dismissal of a Tory activist for his alleged attendance of a 'bad taste' party whilst dressed as Madeleine McCann.

Both are pretty shocking, and call into question the good judgment of two figures who lead, or aspire to lead, public lives in full view of an aggressive media. I can't help, however, but feel slightly cynical about the faux-outrage unleashed by newspapers: if their objective was to spare the feelings of the McCann family, or to avoid causing a race-relations controversy, you might think they'd spike the stories as a mark of respect and sign of prudent restraint. If, on the other hand, they want to sell newspapers by printing 'sensational' stories, whatever the consequences, then print-and-be-damned is the mantra.

I suppose self-restraint and prudence are unreasonable expectations to have of newspaper editors; how likely is it that journalists are sufficiently self-aware to notice, or sufficiently human to care about, instances when their own coverage becomes part of the story? The McCanns would not have been "appalled" if the 'bad taste' party had remained what it presumably was intended to be, viz. a private affair. Likewise, no such controversy would have been generated by Prince Harry had his remarks remained private.

The self-censorship of good judgment could, if excercised by newspaper editors, do much to reduce the flash-points and blow-ups in daily life. Before they lazily invoke the Public Interest, they should consider the difference between something in which the public may be interested, and something legitimately in the Public Interest.

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