by Brian Cathcart
‘Oh my God!’ yelps the French magazine Closer, announcing its topless duchess scoop with the warning: ‘The photos which will go around the world’.
What can they make of this at the Sun? It’s just weeks since Rupert Murdoch’s daily published pictures of Prince Harry with his clothes off, telling us that in doing so it was performing a ‘vital’ public service.
It was vital, the paper said, on three grounds:
- to enable the millions without internet access to see what the rest of us could see online;
- to fully inform the ‘legitimate public debate‘ about Harry’s conduct;
- because failing to publish under pressure from Buckingham Palace would be a betrayal of the free press.
So far, the Closer pictures have not, to my knowledge, reached the internet except in a scanned and blurry form, but if the magazine’s threat is carried out and they ‘go around the world’, surely the Sun will have no choice but to perform its ‘vital’ public service again.
After all, if the pictures of the duchess were available on the internet, non-net households would again be denied the essential knowledge of what her breasts actually look like. And seeing her breasts would again be essential to inform the legitimate public debate about the circumstances in which the pictures were taken. And the freedom of the press would be no less at stake than it was in the Harry case.
The Sun probably won’t publish, and its predicament exposes something simple: the arguments it uses to justify its actions are mere conveniences. The paper does what it wants and throws in justifications without sincerity and without thinking about them.
It is obvious, in other words, that when the Sun made its case for the Harry pictures it didn’t consider those arguments as general ones, merely as smokescreens that were useful on the day.
Nor, predictably, does the Press Complaints Commission help or oblige the paper to take its ethics seriously. As things stand, the editor of the Sun does what he likes – including clearly breaching the PCC Code – and is accountable to no one.
The conclusion is clear: we need a credible, genuinely effective press regulator that is independent of government and industry alike.
Brian Cathcart is director of Hacked Off. He tweets at @BrianCathcart
Photo from Tom Soper Photography