On the midnight of August 31 1997, on the streets of Paris, a tragic accident occurred. The victims of the accident included the most popular figure in the media fraternity to have hailed from the royal family, Princess Diana. The event generated a lot of heat from all sections from the local and international media, religion, government authorities and the royal family among others. However, that notwithstanding, it is not the actual accident or death of the Princess that generated a lot of heat but rather the role the media played in the accident and subsequently, the demise of the Princess. This paper seems to analyze in detail the role of the media to the public rights, wants and needs for information, their role in safeguarding the privacy of other people (if ever it does exist) in their reporting, the relative interests that arise among different media organizations and how they influence the coverage of certain aspects of events or persons while considering the professional and ethical standards that journalists or paparazzi should implement while in the line of duty. The relationship between Princess Diana’s and the media is the basis along which these issues will be discussed.
In the modern world, journalism has taken a new twist. Today photographs seem to have dominated the sphere of Journalism away from the traditional journalism where information was built around a person either through direct interviews or analysis of their day to day activities. The economic and technological dynamism have completely overhauled traditional information based journalism. Photograph are much more preferred as they do not require the assent of the subject under scrutiny and evolving technologies have meant that these photographs can be taken when these celebrities think that they are in total privacy. On the other hand, the celebrity photographs are today used as an advertising and marketing tool in the media (Bidlake, Suzanne, 26). Therefore, the search for the most recent, eye-opening or controversial photographs has gone a notch higher. These photographs are the focal points along which news is built and averts are made. Sometimes they can be used to advocate for certain aspects.
In one of the articles dated August 31, 1997 on CNN World News, photographers were driving behind the late Princess’ car in pursuit of taking photographs were arrested and detained for 48 hours after which charges were arraigned against them.
Very many journalists were fast following behind the Princess’ car-something that might have led to a possible commotion, which distracted the driver of the car in which in the Princess, was carried. This press article does very little in terms of coverage and did not give much information pertaining to the death in terms of the lateral effects of the accident .It will be remembered that very many things changed after the accident including advertisements. Seemingly, journalists in this scenario failed to observe the ethics that follow journalism as they did not bother to save the victims and instead concentrated on taking photos. This article does not give an in-depth analysis of how the accident occurred and of the police investigations that followed the event. From an analytical point, this might have been caused by lack of time. The article is dated 30 August, which coincides on the very day that the Princess died. This being the case, journalists under this press house may have lacked enough time to give a detailed coverage of the sad event.
CNN is outwardly one of the biggest media houses globally, commanding a large domestic and international audience. Unlike other media houses, which are ever on the chase for a bigger audience share, CNN, enjoys a very big audience and as such creating too much fuss around a story is not part of their journalism. Smaller media houses use events such as the one in hand to attract audience and boost their revenues. This is possibly the reason why CNN did not attach too much fuss over the issue. The article does not dig deep and shows a high level of professionalism in terms of choice of words.
Potter Box Model for ethical decision-making is a tool that guides decision-making. Decisions we make reflect our innate values and presumptions we hold about life. For journalists who may have caused the death of Princess Diana, the Princess was another way of making that extra cent by publishing stories about her visit to France. By the time, it struck the minds of the journalists that Princess Diana was not promotional object but a human being it was too late. Moreover, these ethical decision making frameworks should guide journalism. The Potter Box Model is divided into four quadrants of decision-making with the first being the gathering of facts about the material incident, event or circumstance.
Journalism should therefore be built on this quadrant. Press has an enormous impact on an individual’s image and as such, whatever that is published or presented to the public should be gospel-true. Ethics override money or fame. As seen from the way various media houses handled the conspiracy surrounding the death of Princess Diana it raises eyebrows as to whether ethics in modern journalism count any longer. Has the desire for money overtaken ethics? The second quadrant in this framework is values. Values are things we believe and stand for/defend. Our actions in different situations paint a clear picture of the values we hold inside us. Human values are unique and for the case of journalists who did not bother to help the victims out of the wreckage, more value was attached to their profession other than life. Chasing after a car in pursuit of taking photographs and knowing all the dangers that such an action poses is by all terms and sense lack of dignity and value for human life.
In an article in the New York Times titled, “Diana and the Paparazzi: A Morality Tale,” journalists seemed to dig deep into the life of Princess Diana before her demise. The article even creates myths and stereotypes around this tragic event. The question that begs is whether the journalist who published such an article cared about the image of Princess Diana. As the article proposes, the death of the Princess was fruits for her rebellious nature. The Princess had divorced his husband because of the loveless relationship that perhaps she was uncomfortable. Painting the Princess in such a manner is condemnable.
Every human is entitled to liberty of thought and decision. There was nothing wrong with the Princess divorcing her husband or going for a partying spree with her lover. Words uttered by Frederic Garcia who was then a photographer with the Angeli Agency can be termed as careless. The photographer said, “It was clear enough to all of us that she wanted to show the British establishment she was free,” and further pointed out that the Princess wanted to make her union with Dodi official. Such words by a trained journalist show the ethical position of contemporary journalism. Building stories around speculations is an assault to the guidelines that govern ethical journalism. The photographer did not have facts to make such statements. Everyone is entitled to personal space and the monarchy aside, the Princess had personal life that should not be source of debate.
Princess Diana’s coverage in the media before during her lifetime was overwhelming and immediately after her death, no other subject has ever dominated the media as the fatal accident and her untimely death. Before her demise, she was accustomed to being tracked by the media even at times when she needed her privacy. This complemented her art of using the media to convey a message. In an article from the New York Times date September 6 1997 she describes herself as a messenger who uses the media to relay a message. ''Being permanently in the public eye gives me a special responsibility,'' Diana said. ''Notably that of using the impact of photographs to get a message across, a message about an important cause or certain values. If I had to define my role, I would say that I was a messenger.” She so much valued the media and their role but the media could not reciprocate this compliment. In reflection of this, two important aspects come to fore. The paparazzi are both too intrusive and aggressive and have gone beyond the ethical line of their profession. Another aspect is that the celebrities have too little concern about now much of their private life is exposed to the public (Foerstel, Herbert N 6). These arguments can be discussed in support or against them but one clear deduction is that the paparazzi played a hand in the tragic accident that killed the Princess.
The hunger for more information drove them to chase around the Princess everywhere she went. How important this information was to the public is a case of concern but without doubt, it had a lot of influence on the paparazzi earnings. To them, the Princess was not viewed as a person but as an object around which there were great financial rewards. Her safety or privacy was an issue of less or no concern to the paparazzi. Ethical journalism guidelines relate privacy to individuality and human dignity. When this privacy is taken away from an individual, it means that their dignity and individuality has been completely shattered (Foerstel, Herbert N 4). This shows a lack of self control and forward thinking especially when the thoughts of the journalists chasing the car come into mind. Several reports indicate that the journalist closest to the car at the time of the accident, could have been the indirect killer of the Princess and other passengers in the car. The first thing that he did was to flash out a camera and take several photos before helping the victims (Botham, Noel 15).
Botham, the writer of the book titled, “The Murder of Princess Diana: Revealed: The Truth behind the Assassination of the Century,” was equally puzzled by the events that occurred during that fateful day. The journalists according to this author showed a high degree of intolerance. Sticking out cameras to capture the image of a public figure, either dead or alive was a serious issue .Journalists thronging a dying victim in a bid to capture an image to the total obscurity of people who wanted to save the Princess says enough about the role of photographers on the incident (19). “Dr. Mailliez forced his way out, past the paparazzi, who seemed to have taken all leave of their senses,” this statement speaks volumes of words about the photographers who placed much importance to capturing the image of dying people instead of rescuing them.
Poynter Institute couples training journalists and practicing journalism. Just as the Potter Box Model, this institute upholds and advocates for ethical journalism that embraces accuracy, fairness, independence and responsibility.
More controversies though arise from Princess Diana’s death and the relationship to the press. These controversies tend to conflict in one way or another. For instance, the journalists could argue that they were within their right to search for information as needed by the public. During this incident and they did no wrong, however, it seems to contradict the resulting outcry and public backlash on the media after the incident. The public even went as far as labeling the scene of the accident as the ‘Paparazzi Killing’. When the public loses confidence in the media even to an extent of such a backlash, it means the media has lost the direction and need to go back to the drawing board. The same people they purport to be working tooth and nail to feed them with information seem not to be satisfied with their level of work especially in ethical matters and professionalism.
Media freedom is well enshrined in the First Amendment and provides for room to seek as much information as possible. But within the same Amendment, there are limits to which this freedom is protected. When they invade an individual’s liberties, then the public need for information cannot override personal liberties that are enshrined within the same Amendment. Princes Diana’s incident thus shows the fragility with which the public can support the First Amendment (Foerstel, Herbert N 19). If restrictions like licensing the paparazzi are to be enacted, there will be public outcry of restricted democracy and on the other hand such an event becomes an eye opener to the public about the need to have responsible and partially restricted journalism. It therefore becomes a battle between the traditional journalism values and the values pertaining to entertainment which have proved hard to control and which seem to have obsessed the media industry (Sartore, Richard L 47).
Celebrities too are torn between supporting these restrictions. They are built as public figures by the media and they would be seen as traitor of they were to advocate for such amendments. The Congress, after Diana’s incident considered several amendments to the laws governing newsgathering and most of them seemed viable on one side but again conflicted other important aspects.
Majority of journalists who covered the story did not have embraced any of these standards. Starting from the photographers who failed to take responsibility during the wreckage to the different media houses who built conspiracies and speculations around the death of the Princess and two others was a sign of failed and careless journalism.
Bidlake, Suzanne. "Advertising Age." Advertising Age News RSS. N.p., 08 Sept. 1997. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.
Botham, Noel. The Murder of Princess Diana: Revealed: The Truth behind the Assassination of the Century. London: Metro, 2007. Print
CNN. Cable News Network, 31 Aug. 1997. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9708/31/diana.investigation/
Cohen, Roger. "Diana and the Paparazzi: A Morality Tale." The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Sept. 1997. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/06/world/diana-and-the-paparazzi-a-morality-tale.html?pagewanted=all>.
Foerstel, Herbert N. "In Pursuit of Princess Diana." From Watergate to Monicagate: Ten Controversies in Modern Journalism and Media. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001. N. pag. Print.
Garber, Megan. "The Kicker." Columbia Journalism Review. N.p., 31 Aug. 2007. Web. 11 Oct. 2013.
Sartore, Richard L. Media Responsibility. [Philadelphia]: Xlibris, 2000. 48-51. Print.
Sharkey, Jacqueline E. "The Diana Aftermath ." The Diana Aftermath | American Journalism Review. American Journalism Review, Nov. 1997. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.