Journalism, Harold Evans once wrote, is a predatory profession. He’s right, and that is why Prince Harry’s
recent nocturnal exploits in Las Vegas
have stirred up reporters for a few nights on the prowl of their own. They may well be rewarded for their efforts –
and we all know exactly what they are looking for.
And that is how it must be, whether the public likes
it or not.
The public, of course, quite clearly does like it. Many will criticize the Sun for pandering to prurience or bad taste or hypocrisy, or all
three, in printing the Harry pictures. Some
850 people have already called the Press Complaints Commission to object. The objectors may be right on each of the
three above counts, but they can hardly be shocked. The Sun
prints this kind of stuff every day of the week, every week of the year, which is
why it is, and is likely to remain, the top-selling newspaper in Britain. It is not purchased by millions for its
mind-exercising cryptic crossword.
To paraphrase the Bard, the fault, dear reader, lies
not in our Sun but in ourselves.
Or to put it another way, The Sun ‘r’ Us.
In the mutual dependence of reporters and readers,
which often shades into mutual loathing, there is nothing inherently right or
wrong in moral terms. We call the result
of the process whereby newspapers are allowed to print drivel and saucy
pictures a free press. Readers are as
just as free as the newspapers. If they
don’t care for the Sun’s peculiar
sense of propriety, then they can switch to the Daily Telegraph instead, or any of the other eight morning titles
currently available in Britain
(though in some cases, I suspect, not for much longer).
The free press, like the law, may sometimes prove to
be an ass, but that is a tradition for which no satisfactory alternative has
been found. Democracy is a terrible
system, Churchill said, except that all the rest are worse. You won’t find well-endowed Page 3 girls in
newspapers in, say, Teheran (which Teheranis readers may consider a gain or a
loss, though no one has bothered to ask them) but you won’t find too much
objective news either.
Believe it or not, those well-developed Bristols paraded
each morning in the Sun are veritable
symbols of freedom.
There is a practical as well as an ethical side to the
Sun’s decision to expose Harry’s party pictures. When it was made, they were freely accessible
on an internet gossip site and in a number of newspapers around the world. As Louise Mensch, a Member of Parliament and
media pundit pointed out yesterday, if Harry parading around naked with a bunch
of girls isn’t a story, then she doesn’t know what is. The Sun,
true to form, agreed.
It can be debated ad
nauseam whether doing so was in bad taste.
It can also be argued that it represented an invasion of privacy, but in
my view far less compellingly. A plausible
case can be made that Prince Harry and his mates, by inviting a dozen or more total
strangers up to his suite, apparently without pausing to assess the potential
consequences – or, perhaps more to the point, going through a simple procedure
to relieve them of their telephones – rather compromised his right to privacy.
That much is arguable.
What is not at issue is whether the Sun
ought to have been deprived of the right to publish the pictures.
The Sun is regarded
by many – including this writer – as a sorry piece of daily dross that appeals
to the poor taste of the barely literate, but that is no concern of the PCC, or
the government, or of those of us who choose not to read it.
If nothing else, Rupert Murdoch, who almost certainly was
asked to approve publication, has finally poked a stick in the eye of the
British Establishment he so despises, and which he feels has hounded him unmercifully
these past 24 months.
I can’t wait for the Leveson Report.