Banks' Notes 26.05.06

WHAT right does a person have to privacy? Jittery journalists, hounded by the High Court, assailed by pouting C-list ‘celebs' and constrained by veiled threats from play-away politicians and their powerful pals, have grown accustomed to fending off the Big Question with a nervously straight bat.

Covering the antics of a celebrity of any description, unless specifically invited by a gushing press release to do so, risks enraging Naomis and Zetas as well as courting a sympathetic public's wrath.

Responsibility for marriage breakdowns such as the McCartneys'

are automatically heaped at the door of errant media ‘intrusion'; coverage of play-awaydays such as those enjoyed by the deputy PM and his diary secretary bring forth angry-but-empty threats of PCC complaints.

No problems, though, for the reporters and photographers royally commanded to play pauper at the rich man's gate when Posh and Becks filled a rain-soaked tent with their wannaB-list. Sipping Pomagne served up by the ‘Royle' pair, the press boys produced acres of glitzy coverage of the bash at Beckingham Palace.

Everyone's happy so far… It's more a question of what happens NEXT time the Foot-in-the- Door Fusiliers march up Celebrity Street in an unannounced invasion.

If quiet, unassuming Joan Collins was prepared to point her Percy in the direction of Beckingham Palace, then she and the whole tribe of footballers' wives, Ozzies and Sharons and chefs and charlatans, have surely embraced celebrity and announced themselves ‘up for it'.

Frankly, I think the problem has gone beyond mere celebdom: the A-, B- and C-list know the game they are playing. It's the Me-List that is likely to start giving us trouble. The Me-List? Mr and Mrs Joe Public are the latest to join the Cash For Questions queue.

The rain that pelted down on the sheltered heads of the far-fromgreat and not-so-good at Becks's gaff also plastered the less wellprotected people of south London, where My Daughter the Actress was performing in an open-air theatre as part of the Made In Deptford festival. So pitiful are her stage earnings that MDtA supplements her earnings by writing the occasional well-turned piece recounting her thespian activities for whichever newspaper or magazine will give her space. This weekend, a piece in The Daily Telegraph education section on the subject of school theatre required pictures of Tash on stage as illustration.

No sooner had the photographer completed pix of Tash and her young audience than a curious parent approached. Who was the photographer? Who would see the photos?

"Don't worry," Tash reassured the child's mother, "it's for The Daily Telegraph. The children's photos won't fall into the wrong hands."

Turns out it wasn't paedophilia or stranger danger that was playing on mum's mind… it was pounds and pence. Residuals, a few quid for the ‘invasion of privacy'.

Sad, isn't it, that parents who a few years ago would have been chuffed to see little Jacob or Jessica paraded in the national press, are cottoning on to the kiss-and-tell Traceys' ransom demands in exchange for a piece of their ‘privacy'?

When did we, press and public, lose our innocence? When chequebook journalism became the norm for kiss-and-tells? When celebrity interviews and exclusive buy-ups attracted mouthwatering fees in addition to the Press Code-permissible payment for information that would otherwise remain beyond the public ken (and, hence, is in the public interest)?

Fact is, the very public that claims to so despise newspapers'

activities (while keeping a copy of Hello! or OK! in the magazine rack) is hooked on the product of invasions of privacy. We have lost, collectively, our sense of shame. Fly-on-the-wall docs like Sylvania Waters (remember Aussie Noelene?) begat ‘social science' experiments such as Castaway, which in turn spawned that devil's doing, Big Brother, and the equally diabolical I'm A Celebrity…

We have, as a society, perhaps forfeited any right we may once have had to the peculiar notion of ‘privacy'. Perhaps, after all, the press has a duty to continue to invade the hidden recesses, not only in the top echelons, but where and whenever a shameless society goes too far.

Ever since Mother Church and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse gave up their day jobs in favour of a little light dusting and some part-time social work, someone has had to indulge, however hypocritically, in some finger-pointing. And that someone might as well be a reasonable, responsible press.

Just as long as the gamekeeper remembers that he or she, too, could be fair game… david.banks@pressgazette.co.uk

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