Freedom of the press…has it gone too far?

I support the idea of democracy and freedom of expression. However, I find it challenging when I see the UK press attacking and mocking people in the public eye because of their private issues.

I am of course writing this in response to press stories about William Hague’s alleged "inappropriate relationship" with his male advisor, Christopher Myers. Now, the press have a duty to report issues which have public value, helping to stimulate growth and diversity within society. With this duty comes the freedom to report on anything which can sometimes put politicians in an uncomfortable position. Need I remind you that politicians’ spending is now high up on the agenda because of press reporting the scandals? This is good for society.

However, when the press start discussing the private lives of individuals which have no relevance to how they contribute to society, that’s going a bit too far and is actually damaging to society and our culture.

It was perfectly justified for Guido Fawkes’ blog to scrutinise Christopher Myers appointment to being one of William Hague’s advisors considering is apparent lack of experience. This has public value as it was seeing whether there was any wrong-doings in appointing government officials in an undemocratic way.

But the angle from which the reports have been written gossip about William Hague’s sexuality. This in turn encourages the public to gossip and get angry which subsequently reinforces prejudices on homosexuality and, in a wider context, the concept of ‘difference’. There is a lot of work being done to help people accept difference, but this is countered when the media mock the private lives in the public spotlight. Where’s the public value in that?

The other issue with reporting on private lives of politicians, in particular, is that it could create a culture within politics where politicians have to put on a false persona. This would damage the very fabric of politics by forcing our MPs to behave synthetically, thus reinforcing the distrust between the public and the politicians.

We seem to forget that politicians are also people who have feelings. William Hague was forced to make a deeply personal statement about his marriage after the rumours came out. This was unfair and will probably make him more aware about how he behaves and what he says in the future.

By the way, this is not a pro-Conservative or a pro-William Hague article. The media is a vital component of our democratic infrastructure, but feeds on our lust for anger and gossip. It accentuates but also dictates public mood and related zeitgeists. Often, this involves evoking anger out of the British people. Therefore, there may be a need for tighter regulation of the press, because, if Star Wars taught me anything, it taught me that anger will destroy you!

Any thoughts welcome…

Comments are closed.

© James Rose