Although they would never publicly acknowledge it, tabloid media operators regard the invasion of privacy as an essential prerequisite of their work. Without it, they know their ratings and circulations would suffer great harm. Without it, one of the fundamental planks of their “journalism” would collapse.

Which is why, when the issue becomes a news event, privacy invaders roll out their respectable-sounding big guns not only to defend the practice, but to make it appear somehow beneficial to society and democracy.

Today, in his Australian media column, Mark Day uses as his pretext the media’s invasion of the privacy of the Australians whose passports were copied and apparently used by Israeli intelligence agents involved in a political assassination.

Day’s patronisingly self-serving advice to innocent people such as those four Australians is straightforward: co-operate fully with the media at all times, never physically defend yourselves against journalists chasing or harassing you, and allow your Facebook wedding pictures to be published without permission:

“… there are times when individuals get caught up in legitimate reporting of legitimate news and there’s bugger all they can do about it… I acknowledge that the media is a hungry beast… That’s why, when you find yourself in its voracious path, it’s often best to feed it.”

Ten days ago another defence of invading privacy — this time the publication of a naked picture of celebrity model Lara Bingle — came from News Limited media lawyer Justin Quill in a Herald Sun op-ed. In an ominous warning to anyone who thinks they have a legitimate reason to protect their private lives from appearing in the pages of his client’s newspapers, Quill wrote:

“There is no right to privacy in Australia. I can write that a few different ways if you’d like, but it won’t change the position… You hear a lot of people talking about their right to privacy. But unless they’re talking about some moral right to privacy, they’re talking about something that doesn’t exist in this country… Taking a photo of a woman in a shower and distributing it is unquestionably reprehensible. On any view. But we shouldn’t feel so sorry for Bingle that we demand a privacy law. Bingle already has her breach of confidence claim.”

Apologists for the practice of  voyeuristic invasion of privacy for no public benefit — other than to the revenue line of the publishers and broadcasters who do it — seem to believe that, by defending sleazy media behaviour with greater aggression, they are putting some kind of stake in the ground on behalf of “freedom of speech”.

More likely, though, the only stake that will result from their increasingly shrill rhetoric is the one that will be wielded by legislators who continue to strengthen privacy laws in the face of appalling media behaviour defended by a bullying “media beast” that, according to Mark Day, requires constant feeding.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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