Privacy vs free speech: Cutting through the hogwash

The privacy row won’t go away until a plan is made to deal with Britain’s “feral press”, says the Economist.

The mag has cut through the “hogwash” and come up with the novel idea of a sensible solution to the apparently unfathomable debate.

The tabloid press ostensibly argues that privacy laws encroach upon free speech; that if celebrities succeed in covering up moral bankruptcy, so will politicians, with democracy and the public interest bearing the brunt.

Of course, they actually fear death knell of the kiss ‘n’ tell, and a subsequent demise in sales.

If Britain’s economy was so dependent on the clash between Fred Goodwin’s professional and love lives – as the Daily Mail says – then logic would have it that “no one should fly without full details of the pilot’s marriage”, says the Economist. “Newspapers denounce privacy injunctions as an elitist tool open only to the wealthy. It’s a fair point – and would be neatly addressed by granting ordinary citizens legal aid to sue newspapers.”

Clearly what is needed is a clear definition of the public interest. Enter Sweden, where such a definition not only exists – it “excludes the merely famous” – but is enforced by humiliating the papers themselves.

The Economist explains: “Privacy is policed by self-regulation, backed by the threat of public humiliation: errant newspapers must publish press-council rulings across most of a page. This works, because readers ‘hate seeing such notices’.

“Could this work in Britain? The Swedes are pretty grown-up about sex, the British not. Swedish journalists are also rather respectable. British journalists know they – we – are below the salt, that reporters pursue a trade not a profession and can never be part of the Establishment.

“The British press at its worst is intrusive, sanctimonious and spiteful. Yet roguery can be a power for good: when the public interest demands, British hacks burn bridges and attack with rare vigour. Let rogues remain rogues, then. Offer the press a deal. A stronger shield in clashes with the powerful. But intrusion allowed only when it is in the public interest.”

(Source: The Economist)




“Before we all sink into a slough of digital dystopian despair, it might be worth considering this: is this a sign of the strength, not weakness, of revelatory journalism in the digital age?”

Charlie Beckett, director of POLIS at the London School of Economics, reacts to news that the UK government forced the Guardian into destroying hard drives that contained information leaked by Edward Snowden.

(Source: POLIS)


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