Tabloid ethics: Sneak shots of a celeb’s home are fine, and a shagging couple’s a bonus

I’ve never been a fan of bashing tabloid newspapers just for being tabloid newspapers.

Indeed, in a previous existence, I’ve stood on the odd celebrity doorstep myself.

But I can’t help but be thoroughly depressed by an item in The Daily Telegraph today in which the Sydney paper cheerful outs itself for being a privacy-invading, prurient tabloid.  

It celebrates its photographer hiding in his car with a (presumably) long-lens camera in order to photograph cricketer Michael Clarke in the privacy of his home, and as a side effect catching tacky photos of a (non-famous) couple having sex nearby.

The column appears in the Sydney Confidential section, which recently moved up to four pages a day and is, I suspect, struggling to fill them.

It dedicates a little more than quarter of a page to an interview with its staff photographer John Grainger, stating “he does not work as a paparazzi photographer but does find himself similarly committed to stake-out work.”

It feels a little like the paper was so taken by Grainger’s stumbling upon a couple shagging in public that it forget the bit about not admitting its own privacy-invading behaviour. Leaving the tackiness of the al fresco sex to one side, my problem is with the paper being so matter of fact that it’s okay to invade Clarke’s privacy.

The article, which doesn’t appear online, was headlined  “Action inside the gazebo of passion”. It features an “Assignment” Q&A with Grainger.

First of all, he explains the circumstances that happened to bring him to Bondi.

He reveal: “The story of the week was that cricketer Michael Clarke had a new girlfriend, so I was down at Bondi having a look at Clarke’s apartment. I had taken a set of shots of people at Clarke’s place and was filing them from my car in the Bondi beach car park .”

To go with this are a couple of blurry pictures labelled “Stakeout: Movement inside Clarke’s Bondi unit”. They show people who would almost certainly have been unaware they were being photographed.

Here’s what the Journalist code of ethics, drawn up by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance says about privacy: “Respect private grief and personal privacy.”

Meanwhile, the Press Council adds, similarly: “News and comment should be presented honestly and fairly, and with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals.”

I’m not sure where your expectation of privacy could be any higher than when you’re at home.

And the thing that bothers me is the casual assumption from the paper that because Clarke is well known, that privacy doesn’t apply. Presumably, so long as the photographer’s in a public car park, it’s fair game. If it felt it had anything to apologise for, then it wouldn’t be boasting about it in the story.

Still, as I’ve hinted, after he’d finished invading Clarke’s privacy, Grainger had a bit of a bonus: “I noticed things were getting hot and heavy between a couple in a nearby gazebo.”

Going into a level of detail befitting a Walkley-winning shot, he reveals: “It was about 12.30pm – midday,” (presumably for those readers who don’t understand the difference between am and pm).

He breathlessly continues: ‘It was midweek. It was on or about the first day of spring.” Important we know that.

And then he reveals that he sat and watched, and photographed, for the 15 minutes while the couple had sex.  And then watched them “clean-up”. Which is nice.

And that it’s not the first time he’s  watched from his car as  a random couple have outdoor sex. Which is also nice.

And how does this Q&A end? With an assessment of the pictures’ value:  “Maybe you’d get a $100 from a porn magazine or People, but I can’t imagine there’d be much demand for them really.”

You think?


Tim Burrowes


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