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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Ken Clarke and privacy law

I've just read the full transcript of the Justice Secretary's interview on BBC 5 Live. Whenever there's a political row about something that somebody has said, it is vital to always read the full transcript, if you want to understand the whole story. Nobody (including Kenneth Clarke) doubts that rape is a very serious, horrible crime that must result in a criminal conviction whenever it is committed. The debate is about how best to use the criminal justice system to achieve that aim. I am not an expert on the criminal justice system. I actually don't know, technically, whether or not the measures outlined in the Green Paper will succeed in cutting crime. I hope they will, and I don't oppose them, but I don't know. Neither do you, unless you've read the Green Paper (I haven't read it). I'm glad that Mr Clarke has now said: "My view is all rape is a serious crime and if I have given the impression that is not my view then that is wrong, a wrong choice of words." 

Anyway, something else: this row has overshadowed the news that Ken Clarke has just made an important announcement about something else that I am again not an expert on: privacy law. Instinctively, I agree with him that you and I are not entitled to "know about the sex lives of footballers". The key word there being 'entitled'. There's a difference between the public interest and something that the public finds interesting. What most depresses me is how many people want to buy newspapers that are full of stories about other people's private lives. I hate it when I buy a grown-up newspaper that is reporting serious news, and it's surrounded on the news stand by papers that seem to think that a celebrity's sex life is the most important news in the world today. It saddens me that so many people want to read that stuff. If fewer people wanted to read it, it would be much less of an issue. In many other countries, newspapers of that type are far less influential and are taken far less seriously. Whatever the complexities of reforming the law on privacy, I do wish fewer people wanted to know about other people's private lives in the first place. 

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