Media controls a nonsense
IN MY experience, most politicians like to get plenty of media coverage. It makes sense for democratically elected officials to be getting their messages out to the public.
They need to tell people what they are doing if they are part of the government. And if they are part of the opposition, they need to be telling a half-interested populace why they would do a better job than the current government.
So media coverage is part of the armoury of politics. If a politician is adept at attracting media coverage, that’s a good thing. It’s part of what makes a politician successful.
But there is another, much less appealing aspect of media coverage. It’s called fame. To be frank, many people like the idea. It appeals to their egos.
It makes them feel good. It makes them feel special, wanted and important. It sets them aside from the ruck of humanity. When they wander through public spaces like airports or shopping malls, the public recognise them. They come up to them and ask for autographs or these days, photographs usually taken with a mobile phone.
I was at Heathrow airport in London recently and four Australian girls came up to me and asked if I’d pose with them for a photo. I did. They seemed pleased to see me! The next day I was walking down Whitehall and a man called out “There’s that drop kick Downer”. Hmmmm. I was a little less pleased.
A few days before, I found myself sitting next to Daniel Craig, of 007 fame, and his wife, Rachel Weisz.
I asked if I could have a photo with them. No, they said, we feel tired! Poor babies!
Public figures do have a good life, let’s face it. For the powerful, there’s the joy of being able to make decisions which make a real difference. That more than offsets the pain of media criticism and ridicule.
And for media celebrities, there’s the money; Ferraris, holidays at Cap Ferrat, the apartment on Park Avenue, skiing at Klosters and so on.
So a bit of media intrusion is a small price to pay for a great life.
Well, suddenly, in the UK, there’s a cry from the rich and powerful that the media should be constrained and even controlled by law. The stars of the media have capitalised on an opportunity.
It was given to them by the London-based Rupert Murdochowned News of the World. It was caught hacking into the phones of well-known personalities. Now that was wrong. It was against the law. So I wouldn’t try to defend it.
But understand exactly what happened. The journalists weren’t listening to conversations.
What they did was get the phone numbers of celebrities and accessed their voicemails. They could do that because the owners of the voicemails didn’t protect their voicemails with PIN numbers. They could have but they couldn’t be bothered.
The journalists found some good yarns on the voicemails. So they published them. Incredibly, the British Government reacted by setting up a Royal Commission - the Leveson inquiry - into the whole media. It was a circus. Politicians admitted they wined and dined editors! So what? Why wouldn’t they? And pretty quickly just about every famous and powerful person in Britain said the media was mean to them. Boo hoo! Poor darlings!
Now they want to see more controls exercised over the media.
For a start, the inquiry centred mostly on one newspaper. And the Leveson inquiry concluded that on the whole, the media did a pretty good job.
But even so, Leveson thought there ought to be more statutory regulation of the media. So after 300 years of free press, MPs in Britain are now going to look at curtailing freedom of the press.
Freedom of expression and freedom of media lie at the heart of our democracy. We shouldn’t have a bar of regulation. I may have been trashed year in and year out by the media but that’s the price you pay for power. Powerful people should be subjected to debate and criticism . . . and plenty of ridicule so they don’t get too pompous!
I had my own ugly experience of this in Cyprus. The emails of my executive assistant were hacked and published by a Cypriot newspaper.
Not one or two of them. Hundreds of them. It was much worse than anything the News of the World did.
She wept – and often – about it. It caused her huge personal pain and humiliation. The reaction?
A parliamentary inquiry was set up not into the scandal of stealing private correspondence but into the content of the emails!
But that’s the point. If someone breaks the law, then they should pay the price (which they haven’t in Cyprus). But to start regulating the media is nonsense. It’s an attack on democracy. In the late 18th century, Britain’s worst PM, Lord North, tried to ban newspapers which criticised his government. The public was outraged. They even pulled Lord North out of his carriage and beat him. His laws were repealed. You don’t have to go into public life. But if you do, you have to be prepared to fight your corner not run to the parliament and change the law.
Daniel Craig and wife Rachel Weisz … too tired to take a photo with the public PHOTO: AP