How modern editors define ‘in the public interest’

For those of you not familiar with the Press Complaints Commission’s Editors’ Code of Practice, here is what it says about privacy:


i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.

Note – Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy…

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
i) Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety.
ii) Protecting public health and safety.
iii) Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
3. Whenever the public interest is invoked, the PCC will require editors to demonstrate fully that they reasonably believed that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest.

4. The PCC will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so.

5. In cases involving children under 16, editors must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interest of the child.

So, it would be interesting to see the Mail Online editor justify this ‘story‘ [ link] about Billie Piper taking her son to the park – complete with 6 photos, 4 of which contain the 2-year-old child.

It seems to me that the moden editor has subverted the meaning of what is in the ‘public interest’. Originally a story would be in the ‘public interest’ when it had some kind of meaningful impact upon their own lives – i.e. it would be in their personal interest to know the contents of the story. For example, the ‘public interest’ defence is designed to be used to justifiably invade the privacy of politicians. As they are elected by the public it is often deemed in the public interest that voters know as much as possible about who they vote for. I.e. the politician selling themselves as a trustworthy family man who has an affair can expect for this information to be released by the press, his public standing makes it in the public interest – voters want to make an informed decision.

However, the modern editor seems to believe that ‘public interest’ means anything that the public might want to look at and anything that will direct more traffic to a website. Therefore whilst seeing pictures of Billie Piper’s 2-year-old son is in no way defensible under the real meaning of the public interest clause, it is serving up the seeming need for the public to know as much as possible about the mundanities of celebrities. It seems to me that because the PCC is a passive regulator (and regulator is here used in the loosest possible sense) such stories will only be challenged on an individual basis. If Billie Piper simply accepts that this is what being famous entails, then the PCC will not remind editors of the real meaning of public interest, nor the real meaning of privacy. As far as I can tell such invasive journalism is now standard practice because it is never formally challenged by the PCC – see the numerous creepy stories about Suri Cruise as a case-in-point here.

Then again, even if the PCC thought such practice was unacceptable, what action could they take? They are a regulator only in name.


It seems to be a week in which Daily Mail headline writers are competing with each other to create the most offensive headline. Earlier in the week we had that headline on depression, yesterday we had Jan Moir giving her message to students in receipt of EMA:


And today we have a story about how Jonathan Ross’ family are ‘peculiar’ and ‘bizzarre’ as a follow up to him outing one of his daughters as gay:


Maybe I am being oversensitive or reading too much into that headline, but it just sounds as if the writer is taking one ‘peculiar’ behaviour – being gay (in the eyes of the Mail, this is not me speaking) – and then digging deeper to expose the rest of the family as also leading an odd lifestyle – because being gay is a lifestyle choice as far as the Mail is concerned. The full headline is not any better: ‘They talk to each other at home on Twitter, keep sheep and pigs in the garden and have a remote-controlled loo seat. After Jonathan Ross outs his daughter as gay, the bizarre truth about a very peculiar family…’.

Sure, write about the family life of the Ross’ if you want, but why do you feel the need to build it around his gay daughter, as if she was the tip of the ‘peculiar’ iceberg?

The Daily Mail’s idea of ‘left alone’

Lily Allen recently had a miscarriage. She and her partner are understandably distraught and a spokesman for the couple told the press that ‘the couple had asked to be left alone’. The Daily Mail published this when the ‘news’ broke, including the request that the couple be left alone. They have since added a second story, which adds a bit more detail in both the article and headline, just to make sure they get a few more hits on their website.

As if digging a bit deeper wasn’t intrusive enough for the Mail they have followed this up today with an open letter from Rachel Morarjee entitled: ‘Dear Lily, my heart goes out to you. I still grieve for my little boy who came too soon and was too fragile for this world’. It seems to me that if Rachel really cared, at all, about the shared experience she has in common with Lily Allen she would have written a private letter, not splashed tragedy porn on the Mail website and the Mail print edition.

I struggle to see how the reason for the miscarriage or any other information is ‘in the public interest’, even more so as the couple released the basic information to the press along with a request to be left alone. As for the open letter, I just think publishing it is in such poor taste, the sentiment is lost because it is being published for the sole reason of selling more newspapers. The Daily Mail has never respected requests for privacy, and I suspect this is going to become ever more clear as it seeks to maximise clicks on its websites, whatever it takes.

After all, this is the ludicrous news organisation that recently claimed that getting a ‘Daily dose of celebrity gossip could be good for your health‘. Incidentally, searching the Mail website for ‘Lily Allen’ returns 1154 results.