Contempary Issues in Media Policy

he Press Complaints Commission is an independent body which deals with complaints from members of the public about the editorial content of newspapers and magazines. But this is a fairly new committee that was only established in 1991 after a number of case were complained about to the government by some people in the industry and the general public. Probably the best example of this was when the actor Gordon Kaye, best know as Renee from the 80's sitcom "'Allo 'Allo" was being treated in hospital after a car crash when a Daily Sport reporter and photographer burst into his room.

There was no law to protect privacy at the time, but the Kaye incident was the catalyst that led directly to the creation of the editors' code of practice and the setting-up of the PCC (Press Complaints Commission). After this incident the government set up the Calcutt Committee to look at the law on privacy. The Report of the Calcutt Committee was published in 1990. It recommended the setting up of a new Press Complaints Commission in place of the Press Council. The committee found two major factors that forced a change.

The Press Complaints Commission's Code of Practice warns against intruding into the lives of those suffering from 'grief or shock', children, patients in hospitals, victims of sexual assault, and photographing 'individuals in private places without their consent', especially where there is a 'reasonable expectation of privacy'. Now it seems that those seeking therapy may be added to the list of those considered 'vulnerable' too, as in the Naomi Campbell case. In 2002 Naomi Campbell was pictured 'allegedly' coming out of a drug rehabilitation centre.

Campbell had previously denied in the press that she took drugs. The newspaper argued that because of her anti drugs campaign, the fact that she herself was a drug addict made her a hypocrite and therefor the story was of public interest. Although she accepted that the Mirror could publish the facts that she had a drug problem and was getting therapy to address this. She argued that it was not acceptable for the Mirror to publish the exact details of her therapy, including details of her attendance at Narcotics Anonymous sessions and neither was it acceptable for them to publish covert photos.

Although Naomi won the case and the judge awarded her 3,500 damages for articles in the Mirror exposing her treatment for drug addiction, although he later branded her a liar when she denied under oath that she had been rushed to hospital for a drugs overdose. This was a very important win confirming that even the most publicity-driven celebrities now have the right to keep some parts of their lives private. But the ruling failed to create a new law of privacy, and confirmed that celebrities must rely on the existing law of confidentiality, enhanced by the Human Rights Act.

Then on 14 Oct 2002 three appeal court judges have upheld the Daily Mirror's challenge to a High Court ruling in favour of supermodel Naomi Campbell's breach of confidentiality claim. The court quashed the finding of breach of confidence and withdrew the i?? 3,500 damages awarded to Campbell. The newspaper's editor Piers Morgan said: "I hope this historic victory sends a message to the more egotistical, pampered, self-deluded celebrities out there that if you relentlessly court the media and make money out of us, then you have to accept the occasional journalistic rough with the smooth.

" He also added: "Today's judgement is not a licence for us to trample on the privacy of the man or woman in the street. This is a licence for us to reveal perfectly justifiable information about public figures if they deliberately lie about themselves to protect their commercial images. There has been a lot of self-interested squealing recently about the ineffectiveness of the Press Complaints Commission. But this story was published within the strict guidelines of the PCC, and shows unequivocally that self-regulation of the press works. " (http://www. telegraph. html) Vanessa Feltz has made a plea to the press to give celebrities the same "basic human rights" as those not in the public eye.

Feltz, who herself has been news fodder, and recently considered suing the Mirror under the Human Rights Act following its reports of an alleged affair, says Naomi Campbell deserved a "modicum of privacy" from the press even if she has used the media to further her career. She said that "We may be fascinated to find out that she is a drug addict in recovery," continues Feltz. "We may be titillated, entertained and moved to chat about it.

There is, however, a vast difference between what the public is interested in, and what is in the public interest. " (http://www. bbc. co. uk/factsheets/lawinaction. html) Since then, the PCC have warned editors that celebrities and their families still have a right to privacy even if their personal relationships and affairs have been pored over by the press previously. Another criticism, which has gained momentum in recent years, is the increasing pursuit of celebrity news. The Sunday Times serialised a book about Princess Diana which the PCC objected to. Later it was revealed that the story was true and it was deemed of public interest.

After this the PCC changed their code of conduct. The death of Princess Diana in 1997 is one event which echoed throughout the world and caused yet more changes to legislation. Revelations that Diana's car was chased at high speed by motorcycle paparazzi before it crashed early on Sunday in Paris dramatically effected the whole world – including the media. This incident coincided with a policy to make Human Rights part of British law, but with a clause to include the European Convention on Human Rights Article 10 about free expression and the exercise of those freedoms.

The princess, Dodi Fayed and their driver, Henri Paul, were all killed but France's highest court ended a long court fight when it ruled photographers were not guilty of manslaughter. An investigation into the crash found that Mr Paul had been drinking before driving the couple, and had been driving too fast. Nether-the-less, the media's endless pursuit for 'celebrity news' caused him to drive too fast and cost three innocent lives. If they were not being pursued by the paparazzi, they may still be alive today, even given the status of the driver.