The editor of Melbourne’s distinguished daily journal of record, the Herald Sun, was quoted in his own newspaper today as saying the reason he decided not to publish the names of two AFL footballers allegedly involved in a police r-pe investigation was because it was a “moral issue”. Very worthy, except for the fact his newspaper named the players almost a day earlier on its website. The reason it published those names, apparently, was because a radio station decided to name the players. The “moral issue” therefore morphed into a commercial issue, and morality lost.

Last week, the Herald Sun‘s even more distinguished competitor The Age (which has named the two footballers after explicitly not doing so until they were named on radio), did some naming-and-shaming of its own. It chose to prominently feature a story on its website, and later in its newspaper, about the son of a former Victorian premier who, it diligently reported, “has been arrested after being found asleep” and “being drunk” in a public place. The Herald Sun also reported this news and named the former premier’s son.

No one, it seems, is now exempt from being named and degraded by the Australian mainstream media in its quest for being noticed. Almost no element of privacy — let alone civility — is any longer off limits for once-respectable tabloid, broadsheet or magazine mastheads.

Footballers charged with nothing? Name ’em. A 23-year-old who happens to be the son of a former politician? Name ‘im. Anyone, no matter how obscure, whose actions are likely to titillate readers? Name them all.

This growing mountain of sludge, comprised of hypocrisy piled on invasion of privacy piled on amorality, is inexorably oozing in just one direction: towards tough new privacy regulation or legislation, which will be introduced to the sounds of widespread applause from everyone except a few editors who think they can spray around words such as “moral issue” and be taken seriously.

Peter Fray

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