COVID-19 is no deterrent for paparazzi

This long Easter Weekend has been a bombardment of messaging instructing the ‘masses’ of the necessity of staying home. This is a necessary, if not somewhat condescending, message to the vast majority of people abiding by social distancing rules. One group that has consistently flouted the new laws is the paparazzi, which has been in overdrive, snapping dozens of celebrities on their one daily outing. This is not important journalism serving the public interest: rather, it is meaningless trite that instead sends conflicting messages to its readership. It isn’t one rule for the famous and another for us. The British right-wing tabloid press has dominated COVID-19 discourse. It is now recklessly continuing the intrusion of celebrities: it is free to chastise others and never responsible for unwarranted and dangerous photographic stories.

I reckon most university students wouldn’t be caught dead admitting to sneakily going on the slowly buffering and sexist Daily Mail, but sometimes when following breaking news, you do. Many newspapers across the world, mostly tabloids, have continued to publish their go-to reality stars pictured out and about flaunting their figures and whatnot. Frequently featured are close-up shots in Central London. From only a few metres away, these shots suggest a collusion with the press, whose coverage defines celebrities without a career. Further, it shows how paps are taking risks, namely with that of their health and the health of others. The act of travelling and lurking in celebrity hotspots needlessly breaks justified distancing rules just to fill a pointless inch of the Mail’s sidebar of shame.

The Daily Mail may not be the highest-selling paper in the UK, though its online presence is dominant internationally, with refined markets in Australia and the US. I would like to assume that no celebrities are risking innocent civilians by purposefully engaging with the paparazzi and papers. Conversely, there are clear examples of notable fame-shunning stars who continue to be harassed in the midst of a pandemic. Rupert Grint and Georgia Groome, both known for avoiding attention, had their pregnancy reported on, with invasive pictures to accompany the story. The happy couple should not have been harassed, and it demonstrates that celebrities still face privacy issues even during a crisis where safety should be prioritised over views.

The argument that celebrities do not face the same issues as the wider public during the COVID-19 pandemic is gaining traction. We should be arguing that the press is failing the public by whipping up animosity and snapping celebs tottering around to show us their privilege. No one needs reminding that having a second home is a blessing. Twitter storms have characteristically blown up about household names like Kirsty Alsop retreating to their second home. However, this does not by any means justify the elaborate photographs taken of Gordon Ramsey and his family on the beach by their rural home. Shocking and far worse than any emotive individual action, is the transactional and intrusive stories made. Stories like these are really meaningless, but they do expose the classic agenda of division. It pits the metropolitan against the rural and creates a divisive issue of class division.

Further, The Daily Mail infamously juxtaposes amazing A-listers with lesser-known names, deliberately contrasting articles about good curves with bad weights, and being happily single with being all alone. The discourse about NHS workers breaking out against the government now dominates, followed by celebrities playing their roles by being shot clapping for the NHS. Is it necessary for The Mirror, The Mail and The Sun to all have shots of Declan Donnelly? Do they seriously think it makes the public respect the NHS more? The reader is commonly told some tough message from a front-line medic about where you’ll end up if you break the rules, whilst the papers continue to profit from useless stills. Establishment figures are right to preach about solidarity, but it saddens me that lives are being risked to fill a foolish celebrity quota.

Our fellow neighbours have been portrayed as selfish and culpable for chronic national problems, with stockpiling being mostly a bit more collective shopping from the wealthier areas of the country. The intrusion of the lives of celebrities is always wrong, but it must now stop in order to protect the public. Reporting on official directions from the government is more important. These articles turn the public against harmless celebrities. They erode our trust in each other: this trust in what will get the British public, and, indeed, the rest of the world, through this testing lockdown period.

Seamus O’Hanlon

Image: Pexels.