Opinion 3 minute read
The relationship between the media and high-profile individuals, be they celebrities, public figures or successful businessmen, has always been a tricky one. On one side of the marriage are people who only want to tell their good news, while on the other side are journalists looking for a story whether it be good, bad or indifferent, while knowing that bad news always sells best.
Now that tricky relationship is heading for the divorce courts because one party has taken a "mistress" ... the privacy law. How easy is it to shut down almost any negative story about a client by reaching for the privacy lawyer? The client is usually only interested in short-term gain because they are in the middle of a crisis. They can't see beyond the weekend's papers.
We are not talking about only sexual encounters here that were once the staple diet of the Sunday red tops. Princess Caroline sued for privacy on the grounds her shopping trips were private and Naomi Campbell likewise over her visits to Alcoholics Anonymous. Businessmen are taking similar actions over trade secrets (or should we say mistakes) they would rather not air in public. The result is that newspapers and magazines that sold in huge numbers and offered wonderful platforms to those same celebrities, public figures and successful businessmen have shrinking readerships and influence. This impacts on the goods they sell, the TV programmes they want watched and the profiles they want to build to further careers. It leaves newspapers and editors with a seething resentment towards the individuals, the PROs and law firms they believe are gagging them.
But who really is responsible for this ugly divorce? First newspapers and those courting a profile in the media want it all their own way. When newspapers make a mistake they always refuse to publish an apology with the same prominence as the article that did the damage in the first place. That leaves the aggrieved furious. This is often to protect an editor's ego - who after all wants to admit a mistake and furthermore have it shine like a beacon in the very publication that you are the master of?
Media targets - like Princess Diana - have been pursued by packs of photographers who have little regard for the needs of their quarry and little respect for the law as they are chased down the street. And what high-profile individual wants to see the errors of their ways pawed over for the delectation of the public, even when it is accurate and maybe deserved?
Should a high profile public figure like politician who paints one image of himself to the public, be allowed to silence the media when they are trying to tell the public the truth? The marriage between the media and those with a profile is going to end in one of the most expensive divorces in history because we are seeing the media ravaged by privacy, while businesses and individuals can no longer court the weight of public opinion they once could. The lawyers I prefer to work with are those who look at the bigger picture and try to maintain a client's media relationship but settling an issue without the need for an injunction.
The PRO and the lawyer have to be partners to preserve the greater good for us all.
Phil Hall is Ex Editor of the News of the World and Chairman of PHA Media. Phil will be writing a regular column for PRmoment.com.