A discussion of contemporary issues in media ethics, with olives and a twist. Made with only the freshest ingredients, shaken, stirred and poured over ice. I should also mention that I do like the odd, occasional martini. Bombay Sapphire gin and Lillet, dry and plenty of salty olives. Welcome to this cocktail of journalism and alcohol. A fine combination!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Brothel client front page news? Not

An interesting read over my breakfast martini this fine Auckland Sunday. The Herald on Sunday ran a splash (admittedly below the 'fold') about a wealthy Aucklander who likes his social life a little on the spicy side: "Blue Chip man's brothel spend-up".

The unfortunate who's picture and private life were plastered across three pages of newshole (as only a splash can be plastered) is investment broker, rake-about-town and sometime property consultant, Mark Bryers.

Mr Bryers has been in the news recently about other more pressing matters - the investment vehicle Blue Chip has gone belly-up due to circumstances in the global property market and some local variations, such as the over-heated investment scene.

No doubt these events are newsworthy - after all, thousands of "mum & dad" investors (Does nobody else leave their money with shonks and sharks?) have lost their life savings. People like Charles and Lesley Rouse are upset (piss*d off mightly is perhaps a better description) that Mr Bryers and his associates are living large, while the hapless rubes who trusted them are forced to live virtually on the street.

But, does the fact that Mr Bryers likes saucy blondes and naughty redheads (often, it seems, in multiple combinations) add any real news value to the already sad story of the hardly-done-by Blue Chip investors?

Well, maybe, if one could make a solid connection between Mr Bryers' visits to the (ahem) "gentleman's club" in question [NSFW: don't click this link from the office desktop] then the revelations in the HoS could be justified. But I couldn't see any links between the Rouse's money and Mark Bryers prediliction for off-the-ledger rumpy-pumpy in the copy.

Bryers is allegedly worth $70 million (OK, so that's Kiwi dollars) but with that amount of credit, a night at the HQ (allegedly worth between five and ten $K) is hardly going to break the bank.

So, the question is: Why would the HoS consider that to be a newsworthy story? Bryers may not be full square and one has to feel sorry for the Rouses and anyone who's lost money in Blue Chip funds, but what about the separation between public interest and public curiosity or curious purience on the part of newspaper editors seeking an edge in the competitive Sunday tabloids market?

The HoS piece was also curious from another angle. In the story, the brothel-keeper is quoted several times, in one instance making veiled threats to the HoS journalist, Jane Phare, and advising her against publishing anything that identified the premises in question. What might the consequences be of this?

Has the newspaper put its staff in danger for the sake of a rakish and titillating headline?
Time will tell.

And what about the ethics of outing someone for sexual adventurism, which is legal and commonplace? If Mr Bryers has a partner, she/he might be well not happy, but it's not a criminal or social offence to visit a legal brothel and have consensual relations (of what ever vice-type) with the object of your desire.

Where do you draw the line once you start down this road? Remember recently the Australian PM was outed in The Daily Telegraph for visiting a strip club in New York while he was leader of the opposition? As the image here shows, long bows were drawn on this story too - this is an obvious digital composite.

If it was an attempt to nobble him it didn't work; what's the motive in the Bryers' case?

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