The Only Way is Ethics: To focus on Jagger after the death of L’Wren Scott is not a surprise and can be justified

It is not in dispute that he was by far the better known of the couple

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My friends would all attest to the fact that I know nothing about fashion.

If I had been asked two weeks ago who L’Wren Scott was, I would certainly have been unable to place her. Mention of her being a fashion designer would have left me none the wiser.

Had it been said she was the partner of Mick Jagger, there might well have been a light-bulb moment – though I don’t know much about the Stones either.

In reporting Scott’s death last Tuesday, The Independent decided not to make Jagger the focus of its coverage. Many newspapers took the opposite course and there has been considerable discussion since about how that reflects on the media’s portrayal of women.

There is undoubtedly an ethical issue here. If you want to take the Aristotelian view, realising potential is the foundation of individual contentment and, therefore, of a happy society.

If the media relegates a successful person (albeit one who evidently had significant demons) to being the appendage of someone else, what does that say to others about the value of personal achievement? (Mind you, snarky remarks about famous people are the stock in trade of numerous columnists so this is one school of thought that still has work to do.)

So, there was good reason for The Independent to focus on Scott rather than Jagger. Nevertheless, it is not in dispute that he was by far the better known of the couple.

The fact that other media outlets saw the tragedy through the prism of Jagger’s fame is, therefore, unsurprising and not illegitimate. The death of a moderately well-known American fashion designer might not have been reported at all by some papers without an additional news hook. 

And while the media’s approach to women often leaves much to be desired, I am unconvinced that this episode was particularly emblematic.

When the hugely successful businessman Denis Thatcher died in 2003, The Sun ran articles headlined “Fear for Maggie” and “Trevor Kavanagh’s tribute to Mrs T’s rock”. Olivier Martinez, who it turns out is an actor, not a model as I had vaguely thought, will probably always be regarded primarily as the husband of Halle Berry. Or possibly as Kylie Minogue’s ex.

The other point of debate arising from the coverage of Scott’s death related to the use by several newspapers of a photograph which purported to show Jagger, his features gaunt, in “the moment” he heard the news. 

Taken at face value, the image appears to breach the requirements of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) Code of Practice to “handle publication sensitively at times of grief and shock”.

But what we do not know are the circumstances in which the image was taken and Jagger’s reaction to its publication. Only he can quantify any intrusion. 

It is not in doubt that Jagger and his representatives are aware of the services offered by the PCC . What remains to be seen is whether he lodges a formal complaint.

Anyone wanting to use the PCC should hurry. A gathering of current and former staff and commissioners took place last Thursday to mark the organisation’s imminent replacement after 23 years.

Having spent a decade working for the PCC, it perhaps comes as no surprise that I have a more positive view of it than the critics who have gained prominence in recent times. Most people who used its services found it effective. It improved press standards in key areas.

Was it perfect? No. Was it in the pocket of newspaper proprietors? Not in my view. Will it be missed? Time will tell.

Will Gore is deputy managing editor of  The Independent, i, Independent on Sunday and the Evening Standard Twitter: @willjgore

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