Opinion: A Public Interest, Or Just An Interested Public?
It’s not about the boobs.
The fact that Kate Middleton – or, to be formal about it, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge – happened to be sans swimsuit when she was photographed relaxing on her recent holiday in France is really beside the point. As has been pointed out, she has what the Daily Mail would no doubt refer to as an ‘enviable bikini bod’, and there was nothing distasteful or even really salacious about the pictures. But whether the future queen had been completely nude, wearing the Crown Jewels or dressed as a French maid complete with feather duster, the real issue is that everyone, no matter how exalted their situation, is entitled to a private life. And certain media powers-that-be seem to have forgotten that.
This was a gross invasion of the privacy of two people taking time out from a life lived very much in the spotlight. And it was private, make no mistake. If you have to use a high-powered telephoto lens from half a mile away to see something, then it’s not really happening in public. Sure, Kate was ‘visible’ from the road, in the same way my house is visible from space if you’ve got the right sort of satellite; but if that’s our standard, then nothing is off limits, and the concept of a private life disappears. The fact is, the sunbathing royals were not visible to passers-by in any normal sense of the word, and they therefore had a right to expect that anything they did in those surroundings would remain unobserved and unpublished.
The furore over Prince Harry’s recent naked antics was a different kettle of fish entirely. Perhaps unwisely, Harry decided to take all his clothes off in a room full of near-strangers, many of whom were armed with camera phones. While there still can’t be much of a public interest in publishing these photos, there was nothing unethical about how they were taken – it would have been completely apparent to Harry and his entourage that, on this occasion, there was a good chance of what happened in Vegas not staying in Vegas.
There seems to be little distinction in the minds of many news editors and journalists between information that is in the public interest, and that which is simply of interest to the masses. Of course people are interested in seeing Kate Middleton in the nip; hell, I had a good goo at the magazine cover that was splashed all over the Internet on Friday morning. But I had no right to see those images, or to know any of the private details of William and Kate’s day-to-day life. The general public is not being deceived, or manipulated, by the absence of nudie pictures of the royal family. It’s not information that is necessary for the public good, and any attempt to paint it as such sounds incredibly disingenuous. As was discovered by the Irish Daily Star’s Michael O’Kane, who has been suspended pending the results of an investigation into his newspaper’s decision to publish the ‘celeb pics’. Having heard him spout on on RTE’s Drivetime on Friday evening, when he tried to defend his plan to print the pictures ‘in the public interest’ because of how they pointed out serious gaps in the Royals’ security, I can honestly say it couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.
The backlash has been pretty sharp, as a well-oiled royal PR machine cranks up, and there may be more than one editor who comes to regret the day they decided that ‘exposing’ topless sunbathing was the 21st century’s Watergate scandal. Spying on a naked young woman doesn’t make you Bob or Carl, fellas; just a regular old Peeping Tom.