(11b) Media: press freedom to publish whatever?

While working on this article, Prince Harry of the UK was mentioned in the news: pictures were published showing him naked in a hotel room with other people . Buckingham Palace and Prince Charles were not amused.

The media in France (and elsewhere) is upset with Mrs Valerie Trierweiler, journalist and partner of the President of France, Mr Hollande, because (according to the media), she is trying to restrict press freedom: Mrs Trierweiler is threatening to go to court if media go ahead publishing beach photos of her and the president. Her actions are different from those of the previous president, Mr Sarkozy and his wife who allowed the publication of "their" beach photos. Of course, it is difficult for media to know whether one person allows the publication of certain pictures or not. And Mrs Trierweiler made it clear she doesn't want it. At this moment also Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge and wife of Crown-Prince William of the UK, was exposed in a French journal when she was on a beach during a private moment while an Italian journal wants to publish a special about this next week. The couple acted quickly, suing the journal that published the pictures. (I will not write much about the latter case as it is only one more example and my text also refers more general to excesses of the media).

Meanwhile, in the UK there is an investigation (Leveson inquiry) by politicians and judges into the behaviour of certain sections of the media whereby some journalists used phone hacking to spy on people. This is of course illegal as even the police are not allowed to listen into people's phone without a court order. And although journalists are arrested, some journalists continue misbehaving.

Acceptable pictures of celebrities

1. Some male celebrities.
2. Some female celebrities.
There should be no problem publishing these photos of celebrities: I took them in public areas while these celebrities were working, i.e. during premieres when they promoted their latest movies and thus they allowed and even benefited from people taking pictures and telling friends about their movie because it would encourage people to go to the cinema. And as they are film stars, I assume in general they love the attention of the public, within moderation and without any invasion in their private lives. As it was organised attention, they should have enjoyed the contact with their fans because what is the point being an actor if they don't like fans (although sometimes the behaviour of some fans towards their heroes make me wonder whether they are fans).
3. Queen Paola of Belgium.

Not only people working in the arts appear in the media, also politicians and Head of States. E.g. photo 3 shows Queen Paola of Belgium, driven away by car after the military parade for Belgian Independence Day. Like artists, politicians and royalty need the public because otherwise no-one would know about their ideas and their existence.

Also mass events, such as Notting Hill Carnival or prides, are good opportunities to take photos. It is a public event and most people are unknown (so can't be tagged and thus found) while many people dress up because they hope people will notice them to take pictures of them. If people don't want a picture is taken of them, then I don't take them even when at a public event.

Therefore, I should be able to publish these pictures on public forums or newspaper because I took them during public events and thus they are news worthy. But, as one can understand, few if any of the above mentioned public figures would like to see any of their private pictures to appear in the media.

Prince Harry

Recently, Prince Harry of the UK was more than less exposed. This while he was enjoying himself with friends at a private party such as many (no all) other people do (although many may deny this). Although it would be understandable if Prince Harry doesn't want to know some of those "friends" any longer, at least for a while. Many people go to well known holiday destinies to have fun with strangers while they hope their family or colleagues will never hear about it thus why can't Prince Harry do the same, certainly as a single man? Large sections of the public showed their support for Prince Harry and some complained about the invasion into Prince Harry's privacy.

The British newspaper "The Sun" claims there is no problem publishing these pictures because the British public could already see them on the Internet. Indeed, as those pictures were available on the Internet, people could have seen them if they wanted and thus The Sun didn't need to publish them. The Sun could have explained why they wouldn't publish them (invasion of privacy). But not only did they publish the photos, it seems the day before they even published a reconstruction whereby two journalists demonstrated what happened. Thus, as a newspaper that likes to show nudity and publishes about celebrities, I think they were always planning to publish. The day after the publication, the boss of bosses, Mr Murdoch tweeted they should leave Prince Harry alone. What a joke!!

Apart from not having the pictures, another reasons why those photos were not immediately published may be because it seems Prince Charles was furious and threatened to take legal action against newspapers publishing the pictures. It is quite normal that Prince Charles (as a father) or Prince Harry (as the victim) tried to prevent publication of those photos (this kind of pictures can destroy careers) and as they are not unimportant The Sun may have delayed the publication to discuss what to do. Probably they decided enough money could be earned by publishing the photos to risk a trial. Maybe this is also the reason why Mr Murdoch tweeted his support for Prince Harry, because he might have realised another of his newspapers is overstepping a line (the first one, News of the World, already disappeared).

Of course, when celebrities go out to clubs where people normally take pictures to show everyone how much fun they are having, it can only be expected people try to take pictures of Prince Harry. In those places people should restrain themselves (not always easy when one has fun) or expect that spicy pictures appear in newspapers (e.g. in a Nazi uniform). Indeed, one should not forbid people taking pictures in public places where it is normally allowed because of the presence of some people because that would mean it is an unequal society. In that case, it is only normal people stay away from that place. This is different from going to places where it is never allowed to take pictures as everyone is treated in the same way.

And the security of Prince Harry? I find it strange security should be present at a private party because one would expect people can thrust their friends. Indeed, when friends can be trusted, one can expect the privacy will be respected and thus people can take pictures as a souvenir because they will not be published. Therefore, no security needs to be present at a private party as they do not need to tell people not to take pictures. Of course, security is needed in public places because not all people are friends.

Mrs Trierweiler

In France, Mrs Trierweiler, (partner of President Hollande) is threatening to sue media that publishes beach pictures of her and her partner. The media are surprised because they assumed they would be able to publish even more stories as the First Lady is a journalist (certainly because she works for "Paris Match", a paper that publishes stories about the private life of celebrities) and thus they expected sympathy from her towards her own profession. But in reality she seems to dislike to be mentioned in the media. As the partner of a president, she should have known that she would become a public figure and thus she has to accept at least some media interest. She can show herself during some official events to keep the media happy while keeping a low profile at other times; after all she is not the president.

The problem is she may not always want to stay in the background. It seems Mrs Trierweiler wants to be heard whenever she wants to be heard while she wants to be left alone whenever she decides so. Of course, this doesn't work. E.g. during an election she tweeted her support for a socialist politician who was the opponent of another socialist politician, i.e. Mrs Royale, ex-partner of Mr Hollande, while earlier Mr Hollande announced his support for Mrs Royale (I think he should not have done this as (1) it is for the public to decide who they want, (2) not to alienate one of his own party members in favour of another member and (3) because one should not show too much sympathy for a previous partner when one has a new partner). Via the tweet, Mrs Trierweiler tried to influence the public and as it was opposite Mr Hollande's choice people thought it weakened President Hollande's position (although I think she should be allowed to have her own opinion, certainly when he is allowed to give his opinion; indeed people who love someone will rarely try to destroy their partner's career).

What she published on a public forum was part of their private life and was aimed at destroying the political career of the previous partner of her partner and thus it was normal the media published it. Politicians condemned the tweet and wondered whether she is a jealous woman who can't forget. Even the son of the president and Mrs Royale made public he no longer wants to meet Mrs Trierweiler. Thus her tweet keeps haunting her. But if she had published the tweet on social media for a restricted group of friends, we should not have known about it. Afterwards she said she would think in future before publishing something.

But as in the case of Prince Harry and now also the Duchess of Cambridge, I can understand Mrs Trierweiler wants to prevent the publication of pictures via the court as they were taken by photographers during a private moment, even when this is at a beach.

Lack of self-reflection by parts of the press

The media is upset because they interpret Mrs Trierweiler's threat to sue them if some beach pictures of her are published as one of them (i.e. journalists) is against the media. As mentioned above, the problem with Mrs Trierweiler is that (1) she doesn't mind working for a magazine that publishes stories about the private life of others (including beach stories) and (2) she uses media against others while she doesn't seem to accept others write about her private life. If she really disagrees that certain media publishes private stories about others, she could have written about it as a journalist or even have resigned and work for another journal with higher ethics. As she works for kind of gossip magazine, she should have expected that that kind of media will treat her as they treat other celebrities. But the press should know that certain clever and powerful people working for tabloids often despise that kind of media and even its readers and although they earn money while working for them, they will go to court if journals publish certain things about them. Or worse, journalists are fired if they dare to publish about the private life of their bosses, even when their bosses order their journalists to publish about other people (probably the reason why we don't read much about media magnates although they are influential).

And thus when journalists notice even fellow journalists threaten to go to court, then I don't understand that some sections of the media still refuse to reflect on their own behaviour and refuse to ask themselves following question: "Is it always acceptable and necessary to publish, in the name of freedom of the press, about people, certainly when it involves private matters?".

Media often claim that public figures became who they are because of the media and that public figures often use media to enhance their own careers, therefore the media wants stories even when celebrities do not agree. This reasoning is understandable but of course not right. Why do media even want to publish about certain events if the celebrities don't want it? Why can't the media not use their creativity to make sure people will buy their publication? E.g. some time ago a celebrity couple threatened to go to court against media that would publish pictures of their wedding, even when outside a church, except for one journal that was give permission to publish pictures as they paid a large amount of money. Of course, on private ground they can indeed ask whoever to take their wedding pictures but when outside a church on public streets I think it is more complicated. But why did media even bother to publish about them if they don't like the media? One magazine that was not allowed to publish pictures of the wedding only briefly mentioned the wedding but instead published an article, with pictures, about weddings of ordinary people on that day. This was very clever because in doing so, these couples and their relatives bought the magazine to read the story and see their picture and thus although the magazine didn't spend much money, many people bought it. Because normally, people are happy on their big day and don't mind others see their happiness.

Thus when a journalist like Mrs Trierweiler threatens to go to court, then one would expect the media reflects why a fellow journalist may do that. And then they may understand she doesn't want pictures of her private life are published. And ones they understand that, they can understand why they shouldn't publish private pictures of Prince Harry or others. If The Sun is really in tough with ordinary people as they claim they are then they would not be surprised so many people disagreed with the publication and that so many people showed their support for Prince Harry. The same for the Duchess of Cambridge, although I read The Sun will not publish those pictures. The media should understand that Prince William blames them (at least partly) for his mother's death, so they should understand he wants to protect his wife against them.

Will the demand of the media for total press freedom result in the destruction of press freedom? 

1. News media
Over the years, public figures, mostly artists, singers and film stars, complained about the invasion of certain sections of the media into their privacy. But as the Leveson Inquiry in the UK shows, not only "public" people (i.e. celebrities) were targeted but also other people. As a result, also politicians, judges and the general public are starting to question the behaviour of certain journalists.

But also people working for the serious section of the media, i.e. journalists and photographers who take their job serious and are proud for their contribution to society in providing it with information are getting angry with the gossip media. This is why they publish so much about the Leveson Inquiry and the illegal practises of their fellow "journalists" as they understand that the bad behaviour of some media damages the whole profession of journalism, thus also the reputation of the serious media and its journalists and photographers. Plus they think that reporting on media that spies on people is real news. And they are right.

But the biggest enemies of free press are those working for tabloids. As long as other people are mistreated they don't mind and they earn money working for those papers, magazines and websites. But do not dare to publish about them or their friends (until they are no longer friends and the friends become afraid of what may be published about them). During the time of the Leveson Inquiry some journalists complained that, although they did the work their bosses expected them to do, these bosses didn't show any support towards them. What did they expect from people who use others for their own purpose? These media bosses also attack the serious section of the media because often the serious section exposes the dirty tricks of their colleagues who work for tabloids. That is why bosses of tabloids try to get control over the serious media in order to restrict them.

Thus, the media should respect the privacy of people, even when they are on beaches. Indeed, it is no-ones business that people go to (nude) beaches. Articles by tabloids are often not intended to inform the public but to make money and/or destroy other people's careers while they don't report about friends or themselves doing similar things. E.g. homophobic newspapers often reveal someone is gay, not to support the gay rights movement but in the hope to destroy the person's career. To their surprise that often doesn't work anymore because now most people in the West find people live the life they choose as long as they don't enforce their life on others. Therefore, more and more people start to dislike the gossip press because their articles enforce the life of their victims on others. Serious media will inform the public about problems some people face in society whereby volunteers or anonymous people talk voluntarily about their problems so people know about the existence of the problems while the privacy of the persons who talk is protected to protect them from more problems.
2. Social media
However, the protection of someones privacy is not only needed for the professional media, but also for the social media, and sometimes it is even more urgent here because it is a new media that requires clarification.

Companies recruiting people search the Internet to know more about the people they want to employ or even about their employees, even about their private life if possible.

Sometimes people expose (ex-)friends or family and try to harm them or make money out of them by spreading compromising pictures or stories, sometimes even lies. Thus, while over the Internet friends and families share and discuss things publicly or in private (e.g. someone is hurt and wants to talk about it with a friend or pictures of a newborn are published), some people explore others and expose them.

The worse step that is possible is if the press uses social media to find things about other people to publish because the media is read by many people who want to gather information and thus media can spread stories about others very quickly, even to people who don't know anything about the other person. Or they may use private pictures posted by people on social media for friends and family (e.g. pictures of the birthday party of children of celebrity couples). The media can only know this information when they break into private pages of people. And this of course needs to be prevented and when it happens should be punished.

Thus privacy needs to be protected and certainly also in social media (already media experts warn people to be careful with what they publish on the Internet) because otherwise people will become paranoid and stop publishing private pictures and stories, even on restricted pages. Then people may no longer allow that friends and even family take pictures at private events out of fear they may be used against them, even when these pictures are harmless. And we don't want such a situation.

Because the beauty of social media is that one can share ones life and thoughts with friends and family, even when they live on the other side of the planet, or people can share their thoughts with the wider community. Thus rules should be in place that forbid that people invade and make public the private posts of other people. Of course, people who wish can still publish things for the general public.

In conclusion, because a section of the media demands total freedom of press, some of them break laws and try to publish private things about certain people to make money out of the story and/or to destroy someones career. This starts to upset many people. As a result, people may start to demand restrictions on press freedom. I don't mind that tabloids become weaker as it is their own making, but I hope it will not have a negative effect on the serious press because they are a source of knowledge of what goes on in the world and at our local level. It would also be a pity if people would become afraid of posting pictures on social media out of fear some may use them.


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