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    Monday, 19 March 2007

    Subtle justifications for invasion of privacy?

    I've read with interest the opposing outpourings of two-cents' worths regarding the latest drunken misdemeanours of Andrew Flintoff (England's star cricketer) in the Caribbean. While Ian Botham has sought to defend him, Joe Public and others seem to be more than a little disappointed.

    On the point at issue - the likely influence on Flintoff's performance - I could hardly care less. I am reminded, though, of the insidious underbelly to the focus on the behaviour of 'role models' in the media-saturated society. When the Press effects an outcry at the private behaviour of sports stars, royalty, actors and other celebrities, we - the public - may be forgiven for getting caught up in the storm and overlooking the fact that, if truth be told, we often have absolutely no interest in what has or has not been said/done. If a celebrity sleeps with someone other than their partner, that's their lookout; if Prince Harry has a drink too many at a friend's party, well bottoms up. We are told that celebrities must uphold higher standards of behaviour because - well, why? When the Media make a song and dance, what they insist is that we have a right to know, and - more quietly but more importantly - that they have a right to sell us the content that tells the story. (When) Do we have a right to know?

    Herein lies the continuing problem with recent decisions of the courts in both the defamation and privacy contexts (and inferences to be drawn from comments of the Information Commissioner on when it may be justifiable to break the law in acquiring copy). Everyone can agree that there is a distinction to be drawn between the 'public interest' on one hand, and matters that may be interesting to the public on the other, and that vapid tittle-tattle concerning footballers' wives and girlfriends falls on the wrong side of the distinction. What we don't know, despite judges' protestations that they can tell it when they see it, is quite how far the public interest runs.

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