First published in The Times, September 27, 2011
When I’m not writing high-minded articles, it is the tabloid-style political gossip blog that I edit that pays the bills. Just like newspaper tabloids we face editorial dilemmas almost daily.
Can we risk cracking a joke at the expense of a supposedly suicidal politician? Is it in bad taste to run a picture of the empty booze bottles overflowing from the dustbin of an alcoholic MP who claims he is on the wagon? Is it fair to use an old Facebook picture of a young girl in a bikini who is now a parliamentary researcher and said to be carnally linked to a politician? More importantly, was she over 16 in that downloaded picture? Those are much tougher dilemmas than worries about classified e-mails from Downing Street advisers, stolen ministerial documents and purloined computer-disk evidence of expenses fraud.
There is no doubt in my mind that my readers are as interested in the former type of story as the latter. If the blog were subject to the rules of the Press Complaints Commission, I wouldn’t be able to run many of those stories on privacy grounds, because despite the widespread interest of the reading public they would not pass a public interest test.
My experience tells me that the old adage that a politician who lies to his wife is more likely to lie to the voters is as true today as it has always been: it tells us something worth knowing about his trustworthiness. But does it tell us anything about a footballer? Judges seem to believe that we should not be told the embarrassing marital secrets of the football stars so admired as role models by team-strip-wearing young boys. That is a dangerous extension of judicial press censorship.
Our blog is deliberately published offshore to make it more difficult for lawyers to enforce judge-granted superinjunctions; it also protects us from any media regulator planned for the post-News of the World future. Every year our readership grows, partly because we are happy still to use entrapment and agents provocateurs, as well as trample on the undeserved privacy of wrong ’uns, grab camera-phone paparazzi pictures of MPs with their mistresses and generally play merry havoc with people in public life who misbehave, lie, cheat or act hypocritically.
I do not claim to be philosopher king. I know that my moral code is not to the taste of everyone. When the blog has overstepped the mark, our readers have let us know; in that sense they are our true regulators. When on rare occasions we face sensitive judgment calls about the most difficult ethical editorial dilemmas we call on a higher authority — a former editor of The Sun. We ask ourselves: “What would Kelvin MacKenzie do?”