Most of us who are not part of some form of government believe in freedom of the press. Barring the reality that most so called free press adheres to what Naom Chomsky theorized as ‘manufacturing of consent’, free societies at large do believe what they see in the media is the outcome of those Constitutionally given freedoms.
But then, how does one wrap one’s mind around the inherent conflict between such freedoms and individual right to privacy, media ethics, social mores of moral self-regulation and simple decency.
If you are already wondering where I am going with this… well, I am going to France and Italy. A French magazine last week published photographs of a semi-nude Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, and wife of Prince William of England taken while the couple was on a private vacation in Provence, France.
Reports are that despite the royal couple initiating legal action against the French magazine that originally published the topless photos of a sunbathing Middleton, an Italian gossip magazine owned by former President, the disgraced Silvio Berlusconi, went ahead and published 26 pages of the same.
Alright, I am not going to be naïve and wonder what drives a publication to go with such non-news worthy elements in today’s world where the definition of news has been obscured beyond any self respecting journalist’s comprehension. Still, for a newspaper to be hell bent on publishing semi-nude pictures of royalty or anyone for that matter as a “service” to its readers or as an expression of freedom of the press smacks of a blatant agenda more than anything else.
That the publication is owned by former Italian President, the disgraced Berlusconi perhaps indicates a political angle here; and also highlights extreme hegemony where ownership of media automatically filters or sensationalizes what gets published or broadcast in the media.
Also there is hypocrisy at play here as British tabloids including The Sun have refrained from publishing those photos.
Sure, the royals cannot live in a glass bubble and expect people not to look. But as a student of Communication, I am beginning to understand the inherent flaws in the Uses and Gratification Theory – it is a myth if the media thinks it gives people what they need and want to read/see/hear. Really, for anyone who has seen those photographs, I wonder what ‘need’ has been gratified. And even if someone’s vicarious and voyeuristic need was fulfilled, I wonder how many readers wanted or demanded the publication of such photographs.
As a media consumer I fail to see the aesthetic value of those photographs. And as a media critique, I fail to sympathize with the economics driven desperation and debasement of mass media.