Nosey parkers

14 November 2008

Seamus McCauley at Virtual Economics finds Max Mosley's latest claims a bit hard to believe. "I'm entertained today by Max Mosley's claim that his 'sex life is of interest to no one but this squalid industry'", writes McCauley.

Mosley argued: "No reasonable adult will ever object to (or even be interested in) what others do in their bedrooms provided it is consensual, lawful and in private."

In fact, Mosley contradicted himself in the space of a couple of paragraphs: "To keep this squalid industry afloat, an unrestricted right to publicise the sex lives of others is necessary."

If no-one's selling newspapers on the back of the "sex lives of others", why are they doing it?

There is a big difference between "object to" and "be interested in". Three years ago in the US Judge James Kleinberg found against websites wanting to publish what Apple regarded as trade secrets, writing: "An interested public is not the same as the public interest". Mosley's problem was you don't have to object to something to be interested in it. The News of the World presumably understood the distinction, which is why it focused on the uniforms worn by Mosley's pretend tormentors. But, in reality, that was the mechanism by which the paper would justify publishing a story that was more about satisfying public prurience. And that's where Mosley's claim about a disinterested public falls down, as McCauley argues:

"That it was considered worth splashing across the front page of the most popular English-language newspaper in the world and increased traffic to its website by a claimed 600% rather belies this curious claim."

"Newspapers don't, in fact, tend to publish things that are only of interest to other journalists, except once a week in the Guardian's Media Section."

One of the continuing mysteries about the passing of old media is that old media still gets all of the blame for serving up what large chunks of the audience actually wants. If we all get to choose what we see and read, surely some of that blame goes to the people making those choices?

Mosley is right in that his private life should not have been served up before a public that had little interest in who he was but only wanted the titillating details. But that is a long way from saying they aren't interested in other people's business. And a lot of them are like Paul Dacre: hungry for the details so they can fulminate against them (or something like that) in the comfort of their own homes.

1 Comment

The fact that most media prints "all the news that fits" into their pages or airspace has been a minor complaint until the internet made everyone with a website a publisher. Now we have the illusion that since we have a portion of the media on our computers that we can actually exercise some control. The reality is there is no control.

Even if you live an exemplary life, you are not free from the possibility of libel or slander. But if you live a life less so, expect it to be well-known. Just as everyone in a village knows the local prostiture.