Hard News by Russell Brown


What rules are these?

"Lorde certainly doesn't play by the rules," began the Sunday Star Times' odd, mean-spirited, illogical editorial yesterday. "Having made millions despite circumventing the usual route to stardom, the 17 year-old Grammy winner has taken paprazzi photographers to task on social media, accusing them of breaching her privacy."

I don't think that's an "accusation". If she is being followed by a photographer as she attempts to go about her life as a private citizen, her privacy is being breached, by definition. The editorial wobbles on:

She has singled out photographer Simon Runting, posting his picture on Twitter and accusing him of "refusing me my privacy".

This isn't the first defence of Runting to focus on him having his photograph taken in public as if it is some form of persecution. An argument that implicitly makes a victim of a fiftysomething man because he has suffered precisely the same intrusion -- being photographed in public -- to which he is persistently subjecting a 17 year-old woman is simply irrational.

Lorde claims she's scared of him.

"Claims"? So the silly little thing is making it up? Really?

The middle of of the editorial lurches around talking about an unrelated celebrity and gets to the Hosking case, in which Mike Hosking and his former wife unsucessfully sued Runting to try and prevent him and Pacific Magazines from taking and publishing pictures of their children until they were 18.

They failed in the High Court and Court of Appeal because their claim was trumped by the principle of freedom of expression, in particuar because the right to report on what happens in a public place is crucial to a free press. That right applies whether not we like the person doing the reporting, or their purpose in doing so.

But the Appeal court did, significantly, establish a "tort of privacy" that placed some boundaries on that right. A injured party could sue if they had "a reasonable expectation of privacy" (eg: they were at home) or if publication would be "highly offensive to a reasonable person". 

That means snappers will continue to photograph Lorde shopping, walking down the street, or even on the beach with her boyfriend, so long as there remains a market for them.

Let's just back up the truck here. In January, Lorde wasn't simply snapped "on the beach with her boyfriend". The photographer followed them miles out of town to a family bach and then further to a remote beach. [NB: An anonymous commenter in the discussion for this post has insisted that the family wasn't followed. They believe they were.] And after the pictures were published in Woman's Day magazine, they were republished internationally, in some cases in a context that any reasonable person would find offensive. You might think a major newspaper's editorial writer would have a clue here.

And that's the rub for Lorde, or Bingle or others who complain about the media's constant gaze. While there's little question the 24/7 demands of the internet have raised the stakes, the fact remains that celebrities are famous because of the media -- not despite it.

For all Lorde's talents -- and they are many -- it is the media that have propelled her into the living room of American and beyondand made her arguably the most famous NewZealander in the world right now.

Actually, Lorde's fame began without so much as a publicity shot. It was predicated entirely on her work. As her profile has grown, she's done her press duties pretty conscientiously. While there are undoubtedly some people who are famous because of the predatory gossip press, Lorde is not one of them.

Sometimes the best answer to media intrusion can be found not through the courts but by common accord.

The editorial cites the British media's agreement not to photograph the children of Diana, Princess of Wales, after her death in flight from paprazzi -- and, as an example of conventions around "illness or bereavement", trumpets the Star Times' own decision "not to hound embattled minister Judith Collins, currently on stress leave, this weekend, despite knowing where she was."

Well, have a fucking chocolate fish.

The author is presumably unaware or has forgotten that the 17 year-old being jabbed at was pulled off the road and brought back home so she could rest and recover from lung and kidney infections. If we're going to be benevolent towards Judith Collins, perhaps we should extend the consideration to a 17 year-old who owes the public no account at all.

The editorial concludes that Lorde is simply "too famous, too newsworthy, and too popular. Pictures of her sell for thousands of dollars."

They do. And people who've been whining that Runting is "only doing his job" should understand that they're not talking about a "job" in a conventional sense. He's his own boss and he makes the decisions about how far he'll go in the predatory pursuit of marketable photographs. He's responsible for those decisions and any other person -- especially his targets -- has a right to question them.

And then, the final line.

But while Lorde's music may be unique, that doesn't entitle her to her own set of rules.

Oh, piss off. What rules are these?

This isn't a discussion we'll have often -- there is no other New Zealander in Lorde's position. The law is as it is for good reasons. And in the cluster of tweets that raised the issue, Lorde acknowledged that it came with the territory of fame. What she was saying was that she was scared and she didn't think what was happening to her, as a young woman, was okay.

She should be able to say so, and we should be able to discuss it, without having to suck up a patronising, illogical bucket of blame like that Sunday Star Times editorial.

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