Mark Oaten: 'Titillation is not in the public interest'

Former Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten has called for “practical rules of engagement” to be imposed when newspapers make revelations about the private lives of public figures.

Oaten pulled out of the Lib Dem leadership race in 2003 after the News of the World published revelations about sexual liasons between the married father of two and male prostitutes.

Oaten said: “I just want them to be more upfront and honest and say ‘yep,’ we’re doing it to sell newspapers. I would have no problem if they actually admitted that it’s not in the public interest.

“What annoys me is when they essentially expose people’s private lives and pretend they’re doing society a great service.”

The MP believes that some journalists knew about his secret sex life long before the the NoW scoop in 2006.

He said: “They had my story for three years I think, but hung on to it and never did anything with it. They could have made that public interest argument at any point in the three years. I had always been a Member of Parliament, but they waited until it could sell most newspapers, at the point at which I became well-known and at my most famous.”

Speaking about the impact of the story, he said: “For one day’s newspaper, it can virtually change a person’s life for the next 20, 30, 40 years. There can be an enormous impact on the individual.”

Oaten said he is “nervous” about calls for a privacy law and said he wants “a free press to expose corruption, hypocrisy and fraud”, but he called for some “practical rules of engagement” to protect individuals.

“I would have liked some checks and balances,” he said. “I would have liked the chance to have not had journalists turn up on my doorstep and break the story that way. I would have liked a period of a few days to talk to them, to understand it and to prepare myself for what was going to hit me.”

Asked about the Mosley case, the Formula One boss filmed by the NoW taking part in a sado-masochistic orgy, he said: “Of course it was great fun to read about, great titillation, people love all that kind of stuff, reading about other people’s sex lives. But he wasn’t involved in crime or corruption so the only public interest judgement to be made on Max Mosley is whether he’s good at his job. That was an issue for the motor trade not for the public.”

Oaten said the media has continued to be interested in him since the NoW story.

“The minute you are exposed to a scandal you’re offered every single TV programme in the world. I’ve been offered the jungle, Big Brother, everything.”

When asked to respond to Oaten’s criticisms, the a NoW spokesman said: “We reject his version of events, and, in particular, the claim that the newspaper had his story for three years and ‘sat on it until it became more profitable to publish’.

“This newspaper carried out a thorough two-week investigation into claims that the Lib Dem leadership challenger had been leading a sordid secret double life – sneaking off from Parliament to pay rent boys for three-in-a-bed sex.

“The allegations were proven true and the story was published in that Sunday’s News of the World on pages 8 and 9. Mr Oaten is correct that we are indeed in the business of selling papers, however we chose not to print details of his grubby activities on the front page of a family newspaper.

“With that in mind, perhaps it is the married MP who paid rent boys for kinky sex who should consider a more ‘upfront and honest’ approach.”

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