What is the role of the press?
We certainly need a free press to provide us with the information that is ‘In the Public Interest’. How else would we be informed about, among other things, the latest political situation at home and abroad, famine in the Third World, what to see at the cinema, or restaurants offering good (or bad) food?
But these, according to the press, are not the only things that are in the ‘Public Interest’, we also need to know how much weight a skinny star has gained or lost, when an actor has a love child by a woman he doesn’t wish to marry and who wishes to remain private or when a famous golfer has a series of affairs with women other than his wife.
There is a general acceptance that once a person becomes famous, we have a right to know everything about them. For the rest of us, a secret affair, an abortion, the way we choose to rear our children, is a matter only for ourselves and we would be mortified to see a headline in our local town or village magazine advertising our private (often shameful) secrets. Lets face it most of us have secrets we would rather not share. Just because the public figures benefit from the publicity of their latest film, policy or whatever it might be, doesn’t mean they owe anything to the press. The various media are part of our infrastructure, not a balance of payments.
On the other hand, as Whizz pointed out, if there is a gay politician voting against issues that are in the interests of gays, or spending public money on private expenses then yes, it is ‘In Our Interests’ to know it. This is not malicious gossip, it is important information that will allow us to make an informed decision about whether to vote for this person at the next election.
The very sad thing is that the malicious gossip sells newspapers. We seem to have become a nation more interested in the relationship of Brad and Angelina, than the difference between debt and deficite. If the gossip went from the newspapers there would be far fewer newspapers and the industry would probably be reduced to a few broadsheets. What we need to decide is: would that be a bad thing?