Sex, fees and newspapers

6 May

Leeds Met PR student Svend Anders Karlsen-Moum spotted an article on ‘kiss and tell’ in Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet on 24 April 2004.

The article took a critical look at the British media’s sex obsession and explored the role played by Max Clifford (Svend Anders translates):

Max Clifford takes 20 per cent of the fees he negotiates for his clients. The agent says the number of girls who have approched him in recent years has increased, and he now has employees working solely with those who have a story to sell. “I believe there are many who track down footballers and other celebrities just to make money out of them,” he says.

Dagbladet defends the different standards that prevail in Norway:

Here in Norway newspapers are unwilling to pay for stories and information. There are no written rules, but there is agreement amongst editors that this sort of journalism is not wanted. “The credibility of stories disappears when you pay for them. Information has value, and if it takes more money to get the bigger stories, then journalists will be told only what they would like to hear,” says Svein Burass, who teaches journalism and has written several books on ethics in journalism.

Here are the reflections of a young Norwegian PR student, studying in Britain, who is a keen follower of the national sport (he’s a Leeds United season ticket holder).

The stories of what Rebecca Loos and David Beckham may have got up to in a hotel in Spain keep spinning around. Is this what the British people want to fill their lives with? Gossip about lovers and people being paid to reveal secrets that most people regard as private and sensitive. That’s how it seems to me, coming from Norway.

The British people view this as entertainment. That is why the News of the World, The Sun and Sky – all owned by Rupert Murdoch – have paid so much money to publish interviews with Miss Loos discussing four nights and some text-messages.

The main element of the story is that a man is alleged to have cheated on his wife: something that happens in 30-40 per cent of all marriages. I doubt that Norway is much different from Britain in this area. And I don’t think Norwegian footballers have cheated less than British footballers. But there has never been a story in the Norwegian media telling about such affairs. Why not?

From an ethical view, there is no reason to publish such a story if both parties have given their consent. Even though he is an icon – a brand – David Beckham simply plays football. When the revelations about Prince Charles came out, these had an element of importance: he will one day be king. When president Clinton was found out, the important point was that he had lied under oath.

The Beckhams are people like everyone else and with the same human rights as others. In Britain, people – and most of all the press – do not care about this.

When the press buys a story – paying someone to sell their story – they lose all critical perspective. The more the press has paid for a story, the less it will criticise the source of that story. They want a good story, the quotes to make front pages, to sell more papers.

Studying PR here in England, I meet a lot of people. It’s nearly impossible to start a conversation with a young English person about politics (there may be exceptions but I have yet to meet them), and especially international politics. Every 20 year old in this country knows who Rebecca Loos is. Most guys know Jordan’s bra size. But not one of them knows who the controversial prime minister of Italy is. Or the name of any other head of state in Europe.

When I say I am from Norway, the only thing they are sure of is that the booze is expensive.

Does the British press take responsibility for informing us about more important and relevant matters? And do the PR agents who help sell the stories take any notice of what they are actually doing? I know it’s ‘only a job’, yet what does this do for the image of PR professionals? Will people working in PR ever be taken seriously, when people know most PR agents will say anything for money?

Back to Miss Loos again, and her story. It’s a simple ”wow, I made him cheat story”. She is not a victim. Rather the opposite; she is getting very rich. From the information Miss Loos has given the British people, we now know that a given footballer in Spain has a sex life, and for a short period of time had a sexual partner who was not his wife. That’s all it is really, and it might possibly be true. But important, never.

Svend Anders Karlsen-Moum

3 Responses to “Sex, fees and newspapers”

  1. Svend Anders Karlsen-Moum 06/05/2004 at 6:27 pm #

    Thanks for posting it Richard. – I would very much like to hear the thoughts from others on this.

  2. Philip Young 07/05/2004 at 8:46 pm #

    Some interesting points – and observations I think would be shared by many Norwegian students studying elsewhere in the UK – but I think it is important to distinguish between Max Clifford’s role as a publicist (a job he does wonderfully well) and that of PR practitioner.
    Svend Anders asks ‘Will people working in PR ever be taken seriously, when people know most PR agents will say anything for money?’ I think the reality is that most PR practitioners value their integrity – the problem is that popular perceptions are coloured by those on the fringe of the profession (and this relates back to Richard’s previous post re AbFab etc).
    And the fact that sex and scandal sells newspapers – even in Scandinavia!

  3. Richard Bailey 10/05/2004 at 9:42 am #

    I may sympathise with your views, Svend Anders (and even share your inconsistencies, being sports mad but sniffy about celebrity), but I suggest the tide’s against us. I suspect that sports- and celebrity-watching have replaced religion as the ‘opiate of the people’ (to borrow Karl Marx’s phrase).
    There are sound arguments why gossip about celebrities is a force for good. These revolve around our sense of community, and reflect our origins as nomadic hunter gatherers who have only recently become settled farmers and nation builders. Celebrity gossip helps make us a more coherent society.
    Norway is perhaps a small enough nation not to require this, but post-industrial Britain’s 60 million people require a Posh and Becks to give us a common talking point other than the weather. ‘If they didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them’.
    Following a football team gives a sense of belonging and purpose as well as new ties of community – and gives plenty to talk about. Others find this in the soaps.
    In general, I’m satisfied that we’re happy to talk about people-centred trivia today and less inclined to kill people over ideology. It’s certainly the lesser of the two evils.

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