Just watching J K Rowling giving evidence to the UK’s press ethics enquiry (“Quest For The Lost Ethic”). She speaks movingly about what it’s like to be a parent in the telescopic eye of the tabloid press, how it feels to be quite literally stalked by these agencies, the stomach-twisting feeling, as she put it, when you realise someone is watching you. How you wonder what is it they intend to write, what they’ve heard or expect to find, what they may know about you that you don’t even know yourself.
It’s interesting that she’s a fantasy author. We generally consider this something of a minority interest, but far from it; people avidly consume stories about the famous that are mostly or wholly made up. I’m not a particular fan of her writing, but she does speak interestingly about the language of the situation. For example she says she has enormous respect for journalism, which can involve reporters risking their lives to get important stories. Yet people who dedicate themselves to harassing others and getting photographs of children are also called journalists. Should there not be different words for these professions? She also uses the verb “to long-lens” someone, rather than to photograph, implying that to take a picture in situations where you cannot be seen to be taking a picture is a wholly different thing and, almost perforce, an invasion of privacy. It’s a useful distinction.
A picture emerges of someone effectively forced into hiding by the need to shield her children from the life-warping effects of publicity. She’d never make the analogy herself, but her success at, of all things, children’s fiction has brought her to a situation only a step or two away from that of Salman Rushdie. Yet the Press Complaints Commission, as currently constituted, seems unable and indeed unwilling to do anything meaningful about this sort of persecution. Even when it upholds a complaint, the tabloids seem able literally to laugh it off. After one such reprimand a paper responded by publishing a picture of her daughter as a baby. It would be hard to imagine a more subtle yet simultaneously barbaric threat.
I’m reminded of the time that one paper published a map to the home of George Michael, another known non-fan of News International and its ilk. Forced to apologise, they stated that it “had not been their intention” to reveal the location of his home. Can you think of an intention to a map other than revealing a location? But it seems that in the strange world of press regulation, a bare-faced, transparent and risible lie counts as an apology. It’s clear that the UK needs a better mechanism to punish the fantasy press for its transgressions.
The question as always is how you can do that without endangering the freedom of other papers to do good things. Well there is one simple way: Don’t buy them. Don’t ever buy them. No matter how tempting the pornography they put on their front pages, don’t buy them. It’s the only regulation that they understand.
- JK Rowling to testify at UK phone-hacking hearing (msnbc.msn.com)
- Sienna Miller: UK tabloids “abused” me – CBS News (cbsnews.com)
- Steve Coogan Slams Celebrity “Fame Game,” Says Tabloids Are “Like the Mafia” (eonline.com)
- Mosley outrage at NoW Nazi story (bbc.co.uk)