Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Public Interest or public interest

Clifford Longley was on Thought for the Day yesterday pontificating about how from the Bible he inferred the right of journalists to write and publish just whatever they like.

In my understanding, Catholic teaching has always frowned on gossip and taking away someone’s good name.

So frankly, I couldn’t care less whether a footballer has been having an affair with a model. And it’s hardly news in any sense of the word - just gossip.

Nor do I buy the line that any censorship is impermissible. We all know that’s not true: we happily - and rightly - agree to the press censoring advance details of military operations, or police ones; we would deplore the press publishing accurate information on how to make chemical weapons in your kitchen, and so on. The question is not whether we have censorship, but what is censored and who decides.

I think one of the arguments here is Public Interest, which is very different from public interest.

I can see no particular Public Interest (although lots of prurient public interest) in the misbehaviour of an overpaid footballer and an overexposed glamour girl.

However, I think there is a real Public Interest in revealing the affairs of those in public office or places of social and political influence. So we should know if Fred Goodwin had an affair with another senior member of his bank; and the same applies to journalists, politicians, police chiefs (and Police Authority chairmen, come to that) and so on.

And the reason is this: we are expected to invest some trust in these people, and lack of integrity in their private life is, to say the least, an indicator that we should watch out for their integrity in their public life.

It was particularly shameful to hear MPs excusing one of their own for stealing from the public purse because he was not doing it, (it was claimed) for motives of personal gain, but to keep the secret of his homosexual affair out of the public gaze.

And then they have the nerve to say that private morality is private and does not affect someone’s fitness for public office.


No comments: