'Our job to cut through the lies and PR waffle'

Taylor said stars were fair game

Only three out of a 200-strong audience mostly comprising people working in the media felt sorry for celebrities caught unwillingly in the media spotlight.

The audience, at a Media Society debate at London’s Hippodrome last week, heard a panel – including journalists, a politician, a showbiz agent and a lawyer – discuss whether over-reporting of celebrities’ activities was in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden circulation figures.

It was News of the World associate editor Phil Taylor who brought the audience closest to admitting how the cult of celebrity had grown.

A number of those present had been expressing their support for celebrities to have a measure of privacy in their lives. But when Taylor asked how many people bought and read the NoW, and how many liked reading celebrity stories, there was a sizeable show of hands.

Only three voted to show they were sorry for celebrities. Showbiz agents love to promote their clients in the NoW when it suits them, said Taylor. Celebrity stories sell the paper.

“But all too often, having established their new-found status, they turn their backs on the tabloids. They turn to fawning magazines which are happy to paint a sanitised, airbrushed picture of their private lives. That’s why the current Catherine Zeta-Jones privacy action against Hello! is the ultimate in celebrity hypocrisy.”

Celebrities could not press the publicity switch on and off when they demanded it, said Taylor. “Their agents will lie through their teeth to protect their carefully-crafted image. It is our job as journalists to get through the lies and PR waffle.”

The real stars, he argued, learned to play the media game, adding: “For those celebrities who can’t bear being in the spotlight, the answer is simple. Find another way of earning a living.”

Media commentator Roy Greenslade spoke as a former practitioner of tabloid journalism who is worried about the change of emphasis in news.

“Today, celebrity dominates all our newspapers,” he said. “Even our politicians have to be media-friendly.”

Editors say they give their readers what they want – casting themselves as the equivalent of fast-food purveyors, he said. “They wouldn’t eat the stuff themselves, but the public seem to love it, so that’s all right.”

By Jean Morgan

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