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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn

"In the Public Interest" vs"of Interest to the Public": What is the role of marketing and PR?

Media coverage in the UK is fast-paced. The adage that "today's news is tomorrow's chip paper" may have moved on in the internet age, but the speed at which news has evolved and is delivered and updated has only increased.


The distinction between what is genuinely "in the public interest" and what is merely "of interest to the public" hasn't changed though.



Silhouette of a man watching news on TV

Image credit: Amanna Avena, Unsplash


Let's take for example coverage of Philip Schofield's recent resignation from ITV. Print, broadcast and online media outlets seem to have talked about nothing else now for weeks. There's even been talk of referrals to media watchdogs about whether the level of coverage has been unjustified.


Is such coverage appropriate? Does the British public really need to know what a celebrity does in their spare time? Do people like Schofield open themselves up to such intense scrutiny because they scrutinise others in the same way? What about the other person involved, what are their rights?


These are all important questions, and ones which marketing, communications and PR advisors are faced with regularly.


"The Public Interest" and Privacy

The concept of the public interest is rooted in serving the greater good of society. It encompasses stories that impact public health, safety, democracy, or expose corruption and wrongdoing. The media often justifies their coverage by citing public interest, striving to inform the public about matters that significantly affect their lives. There are endless examples of great reporting which have brought to light injustices, illegalities and other important information which the public justifiably should have known about.


"Of interest to the public"

At the other end of the spectrum are stories which are merely interesting. Sometimes this borders on a strange fascination, particularly with celebrities and people who make their careers in the media. You could argue influencer marketing exists purely because of this fascination.


The media coverage surrounding Philip Schofield's affair with a young team member has tested the delicate balance between public interest and public fascination. While the situation involved a prominent figure, it raised questions regarding the extent to which the public had a genuine interest in the matter and about what elements of the story we were just being nosey.


What complicates this story is that there are some aspects which are black and white and some which are not. There has been no illegality on Schofield's part. But questions are being asked of ITV's safeguarding practices and whether he took advantage of his position. It is in this latter arena that many gossip sites, and gossipy humans, are focusing.



Man uses laptop and phone to scroll through media

Image credit: Austin Distel, Unsplash


The role of marketing and PR professionals

So where does this leave us as marketing and PR people?


PR companies, talent management agencies and others are often accused of cover ups and spinning information when navigating complex situations like this one. Walking the fine balance between representing our client effectively and behaving in the transparent way our professional accreditations require is complicated. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in an "us and them" relationship with journalists, and a mistrust for our industry from the public.


As marketing and PR professionals, it is crucial for us to critically analyse whether private affairs such as this qualify as being genuinely in the public interest or merely prurient curiosity.


Understanding the distinction between public interest and public fascination is paramount when devising effective communication strategies. And evaluating the potential consequences on individuals' privacy and the overall public perception should guide our decision-making.


Promoting ethical standards

In our roles as marketing and PR practitioners, it is incumbent upon us to champion truthfulness, transparency, and ethical storytelling. By advocating for responsible media practices and avoiding exploitative tactics, we can contribute to a media landscape that upholds public interest while respecting individuals' rights to privacy.


Distinguishing between stories that genuinely serve the public interest and those that are merely of interest to the public is an ongoing challenge in the UK media landscape. The media coverage surrounding Philip Schofield's resignation brings this distinction to the forefront.


It is our responsibility to navigate this complex terrain with integrity, ensuring that our communication strategies align with ethical standards and respect individuals' privacy.


By doing so, we can contribute to a media environment that fosters trust, upholds the (genuine) public interest, respects the rights of individuals involved, and delivers against the high standards professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of PR demand of us.


If you would benefit from professional PR support for your business, get in touch.

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