Survey indicates support for law on privacy

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The Independent Online
PUBLIC opinion overwhelmingly agrees with David Mellor, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, that the press is drinking at the last chance saloon, according to a Gallup poll published yesterday.

It shows that nine out of ten adults favour the introduction of a law to protect the individual's right to privacy in the wake of coverage of Princess Diana's private life, which most people regard as excessive.

The poll, which was conducted among a representative sample last month on behalf of Europa Times, indicates an overwhelming body of public opinion in favour of curbs on press freedom. Asked whether there should be a privacy law, 87 per cent of those questioned said 'yes' while a mere 7 per cent defended newspapers' right to publish.

The findings will do little to cheer newspaper editors already battling against calls for legal restrictions on the media following coverage of Andrew Morton's book on Princess Diana and reports on the private lives of Virginia Bottomley and other public figures. The survey was completed before the People's story on David Mellor's affair with an actress.

Anita Jones, Gallup's senior researcher, described the proportion of the survey's 1,019 participants who were in favour of a change in the law as 'exceptionally high'.

The survey shows that people aged over 45 are most likely to favour measures to avert the prying eyes of journalists from the bedroom sagas of public figures. Eight out of ten over-80s approved of stricter laws.

People in their 20s and 30s tend to take a more relaxed approach. But the figures suggest a backlash against the press among young adults, with 73 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds wanting tougher regulations.

The Government is reviewing the need for a law against invasion of privacy. Sir David Calcutt QC is to deliver his second report on the issue at the end of the year. In his first report in June 1990, he proposed that newspapers should be given another chance to prove they can regulate themselves. But he warned that if newspapers did not curb their excesses voluntarily through the Press Complaints Commission, the law would have to do it for them.