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An abuse of privilege

They say it takes a special breed of person to be a journalist. Practitioners of the craft know that it is not unusual to take a beating from both sides of the fence — their colleagues and their readers/audiences.

But quite often members of the profession are their own worst enemy by virtue of their conduct. We often have no problem scrutinising the lives of others, but then behave as though we are above inspection. We can be quick to criticise others while at the same time showing how thin our own skins are.

We so often behave as if we know everything and expect to be treated as such. Yes, we dabble in so many aspects of life’s occurrences that quite often we are far more familiar with a wider range of things than the average person, but we should never see this as a route to behaving as though we know all and are above reproach.

We feel the need to take this stance in light of the noise now brewing in Britain over the publication, or non-publication, depending on where you stand, of photos taken of a nude Prince Harry in a hotel room in Las Vegas recently. Quite frankly, we believe the publication of the photos was wrong and amount to an abuse of privilege.

According to American entertainment website TMZ, which was first to publish the photos, Prince Harry was photographed nude after playing “strip billiards” with friends. While the American press made heavy use of the photos, the traditionally racy UK tabloids didn’t. However, reports that they are now moving to do so led the Royal family to seek the intervention of the Press Complaints Commission on the grounds that to publish the photos amounts to an invasion of privacy.

We are not experts on the mandate of the council, but logic would suggest that there is some stretching by Buckingham Palace as there can be no complaint if no act has as yet been committed. However, it is not unusual for an entity to take such a course of action in the law courts prior to publication, and perhaps that might have been a more appropriate route to take.

Any journalism student who has completed a Mass Communication 101 course would know there are some basic principles on which privacy is based, stemming from the acceptance by law courts, including: that there can be no expectation of privacy in a public place; on the face of it, a person who is for all intents and purposes a public figure cannot expect to be treated as a private person; and that generally, a person’s actions in his home are treated as private.

One major counter to the privacy rules, which has been used effectively for decades by the United States media in particular, has been “public interest” — generally where the public’s right to know outweighs notions of privacy.

And that’s exactly what former News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis used when he complained he would have published the pictures because doing so was in the public interest.

Prince Harry, like any other public figure, or any individual for that matter, could not expect privacy in public: But how can a privately rented hotel room be a public place? Or, is it that we have reached the point that a public figure can have no expectation of privacy in any circumstances — even his home? Is it that the British public has a right to know what the Royal grandson looks like naked?

Could it be that British national security is compromised when Harry strips? Or perhaps that an adult, prince or otherwise, has no right to play strip-billiards, poker or any other game in the privacy of his home — albeit a temporary abode in this case?

The problem is that for a long time we have been developing media kingdoms, even in the Caribbean, with rulers and their minions who believe their opinions are sacred and above all else. We are not! We are individuals, perhaps trained in the art of communications and with the added benefit of access to information beyond the reaches of John Public, but we should never take this to delude ourselves into believing we’re omnipotent or omniscient.

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