With every passing decade, moral boundaries and ethical procedures change and transform. The controversies that would have breached editorial reporting policy back when Queen Victoria was reigning would now be considered fodder for a rainy day, to be squeezed into a subheaded side column, in case the gruesome expose splashed across the double page spread is too much - or not enough.
The debate that raged around the elegant frocks of important socialites in the age of industry has evolved and progressed into a new beast. Gossip and rumours became the foothold of our press industry and slowly turned into a weapon. A ICBM of information, ready to be aimed at whomever the papers choose to destroy. Mutually assured destruction: the reputation of the newspaper takes a plunge whilst delivering a crucial blow to the privacy of the subject. As long as they are worse off than the paper, the tactic works wonderfully with dividends that pay off for years to come.
Currently we're in the age of information. Freedom of choice and speech has never been so available to the common human being as it is now, with that comes the downside that the same information available to us all via social media and Google is also available to those with more sinister motives than 'national security.'
Where does this fit in with Aston Villa? An exploitative piece on one of Villa's players was run yesterday by The Sun (I won't serve or support the story by linking to it). It's not exactly the story that is the issue, as that kind of dross dances the typeface of the tabloids nationwide - it's the manner and nature of why. Why was this story released now?
The answer is simple - in some way it's relevant. Aston Villa have a high profile game on Tuesday night and Birmingham City fans will relish ammunition. It's not just that though, Birmingham City fans aren't to blame and they aren't the sole buyers of the Sun. My best guess is that this story was released simply because it was a 'slow' news day.
The philosopher, Louis Althusser championed the theory of the Ideological State Apparatus - where instead of fear, people are controlled and manipulated by social ridicule. The church would mock you publicly if you don't follow them, if you wear certain clothes, you'll be ridiculed. Of course, it's overly sinister and paranoid to believe that the ideology of this hides behind every aspect of our daily lives - but when the majority of our newspapers are filled with gossip and humiliating rumours that serve no purpose than to upset: it's certainly impossible to ignore.
Another aspect of this would be today's news. We hear of a statesman committing atrocious and disgusting acts. The question we have to ask ourselves is this; why should we mock the statesman and not the footballer? Why should we mock the footballer and not the statesman?
There's no ethical answer to the question I've just posed. It would, in a perfect world, be 'no'. We can't mock one and not the other because it would be hypocritical paradox. It's up to us to draw the line in the sand and pledge our allegiance to whomever we defend. Personal bias aside, the statesman is elected to serve a moral position and is deployed using tax money: everyone has a part to play in his actions. The footballer on the other hand simply found himself in his current position, he owes not a thing to a soul. This formula is then made more complicated by personal actions, for example, if the footballer donates a lot of money to a charity - does he earn leeway regarding smears in the media? If the statesmen likely used phone hacking and other nefarious methods of public relations manipulation, is it karma and thus morally justified that he is on the end of a nasty rumor?
The trouble with delving into the ethics of the mass-media will be already apparent to those who have gotten to this stage of the article. The problem is the further we search and probe, the more issues that are raised and hypocrisy leaks out seemingly from nowhere. To lay it out simply is as follows: no-one's life should really be used as weaponised information and especially if there is no clear purpose. You've got to ask yourself what it has come to when a slow news day means attempting to disrupt someone's life for no reason.
The Sun have already gained a notorious reputation for their coverage of the Hillsborough disaster and the Gabby story (I still will refuse to link it) is innocent in comparison, but the same issue remains - hyperbole at the expense of someone else for little gain. If the journalists are under the cosh to deliver, well that's another ethical question; but surely something should trigger in the deep recesses of one's mind to say that printing such lewd writing is a tremendously bad idea.
It's not all doom and gloom. The advent of Twitter and the increasing number of blogs and journalists popping up mean that the pressure is on - now more than ever, to deliver engaging and captivating journalism and one day the penny will surely drop. People out there that aren't working for the tabloids, people actually in the street and on the road who are engaged in their communities. Hyperlocal journalism and blogging that means something within areas of the world. That's what reporting was always about and the craft has clearly lost its way, but more and more people are starting to reject gossip and rumor based journalism in the sporting world and that change might just progress into ‘real' journalism.
The life of Gabby Agbonlahor is no concern to anyone. If he makes a mistake, it's because he's human. His actions can only affect himself and those around him, not those behind a wall of inky print. The fact that a newspaper has chosen to run a story on him shows the senseless, unbiased focus of such forms of media, anyone who doesn't fit their image of perfect is already a target & they clearly have archive after archive of unreleased stories ready to go at any given moment should the news slow down to a crawl. The demand for more information drives this machine, but small twigs of self-improvement are being stuck into the spokes as we all start to realise that we can learn and grow from the news and not just mock the weakest moments of others, especially if they are on our wavelength. The lives of others aren't really our business, unless our lives are their business.