Monday, 11 July 2011

A Victory for Public Decency not Celebrity Anger

I read the News of the World. At least I used to. I didn't read it every week but that doesn't really matter, does it? Plenty of people will judge me just for occasionally going near the previously best selling paper in the English language.

Until recently disapproval of the NoW and its followers has come in two forms. Firstly the (not necessarily religious or partisan) puritan element of society (as pointed out by Toby Young) or a snobbish tut-tutting at the working classes' choice of newspaper (see Brendan O'Neill for details).

That all changed with revelations about Milly Dowler and the families of bereaved armed forces personnel. And fair enough. Not one person has offered a defence of such heinous behaviour and it cost a lot of innocent journalists, subs and auxiliary staff their jobs.

Since the paper's demise the criticism has changed once again. Poor Millie Dowler and her family aren't getting much of a look-in.

Instead of hearing from the innocent we are being lectured by those whose guilt was uncovered by NoW (among others).

Hugh Grant (soliciting a prostitute), Steve Coogan (drugs and several affairs), John Prescott (affair), Chris Bryant (posed in underwear online), Max Mosley (S & M orgy) have all been celebrating the fall of the NoW with a mixture of glee and bile that they can barely contain.

They are now leading the charge for tighter regulation of the press. It's as if they have won a great victory are now writing their own treaty of Versailles to impose on the vanquished.

Should these new champions of morality stop to consider for a moment they will realise they have won no victory at all. Their complaints about media intrusion have been going on for years and the public did not care enough to put Rupert Murdoch off his breakfast nevermind buying B Sky B.

Then the NoW treated innocent people the way it had previously treated the guilty and the public turned on them. The tabloids' critics scent blood and want them regulated without thinking for a moment that it was investigative journalism that exposed the NoW in the first place.

Saint Hugh told Question Time that he was not in favour of regulating the broadsheets just the tabloids. This shocking piece of snobbery conveniently forgets that the NoW uncovered and campaigned on issues that meant a lot to its readers. From naming paedophiles to stories about bank robberies. Not just shining a light on celebrity naughtiness and hypocrisy.

His Hugh-liness was probably remembering his claim in May that celebrity injunctions were "fabulous", that successful men were naughty by nature and deserved privacy while forgetting that tabloids have their role too.

If the public were to lose the right to learn about celebrities misdemeanours (or worse) all we would ever know about famous people is what their expensive PR people tell us. They could then profit from this image and no one would ever know the truth.

The Guardian has done its job splendidly by revealing a scandal and letting the public make judgement. Just like the NoW used to do.

Steve Coogan told Newsnight that the NoW was in the gutter before the recent scandal. The public should remember who they found there and ask if they are the best judge of decent behaviour.