Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Live in the public eye? Get used to being gawked at

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Beauties like Ali Mau, especially those who work in the business, should know you can't flirt with media.

Alison Mau. Photo / Supplied
Alison Mau. Photo / Supplied

When Princess Diana died, pursued by paparazzi, huge debate ensued about the media's role in her miserable life.

But Diana played the press like a violin, then wailed when certain members refused to dance to her tune. If she'd behaved with dignity that fatal night and stayed in The Ritz, she may well be alive today.

Similar debate about nosey media has surfaced following this paper's "outing" of journalist Ali Mau.

Thousands (me included) don't care about her personal life, but many thousands do - they bought the paper and clicked online. Even the Prime Minister confided to a source: "Everyone's talking more about it than tax."

When Woman's Day ran more photos, Mau hit back with a ballsy attack on morning television. When will this stop, she asked rhetorically, garnering sympathy and selling thousands more copies as she held the mag aloft.

Brava. Not many who've felt the heat of media torment host our own show and get the chance to dish it right back.

But why was Mau's alleged new love target even remotely interesting, when we all know dozens of public figures who - unbeknown to the public - are rumoured to be privately gay or bisexual?

Because these people are just that - private. They haven't, in the past, given or sold their happy family stories to the women's magazines.

They haven't had the makeovers, the publicity shots, the carefully worded press releases published with the couple's blessings.

Dollars may or may not have changed hands - women's mags are not above chequebook journalism when the stakes are high.

My point is, beauties like Ali Mau, especially those who work in the business, should know you can't flirt with media. If you pose prettily for the celebrity pages and build yourself up in the fame stakes, then you can't complain bitterly at the price.

Midweek, TVNZ's Close Up (Mau's employer) upped the ante by asking if media is prying "too far in the pursuit of a story about a celebrity?"

"It's all becoming too grubby and nasty," opined Mike Hosking.

Nonsense. We're soft-boiled compared with the old days. I can remember when Truth sold around 250,000 copies a fortnight because it published photographs taken mostly by the late Edwin Elijah Carpenter, renowned Wellington private investigator who specialised in bursting into bedrooms, flashbulbs popping, taking photos of people in flagrante delicto.

These lewd photos, mostly of middle-aged adulterers clutching sheets around their naked bodies, would be produced in the High Court by the divorce petitioner on the grounds of adultery. It was a matter of public record and names were brazenly published. A rectangular box across the female's nipples was the only censoring.

No one dared complain on the grounds their children might be damaged - you were supposed to consider the children before you committed adultery, or decided to abandon the marriage.

If you didn't like it, you didn't buy Truth, or "allow that filth into the house", as Patricia Bartlett would say - similar to the sentiments expressed by Bill Ralston about the Herald on Sunday on National Radio.

If anything, today's Sunday papers are kinder than the papers of my early journalism days. Consider this organ's refusal to name the "rich Auckland couple" who recently split up.

My first divorce, in the 1970s, occurred in front of a High Court judge in Wellington for all and sundry to hear.

I had to produce a witness who swore I hadn't cohabited with my husband for two years. Anyone who cared could have reported it.

Some in the media are getting far too precious, hiring lawyers to write letters silencing reporters they don't particularly like. Live and die by the pen, I say. An old editor who taught me heaps once said a good journo doesn't have any friends.

That's probably a bit harsh, but I certainly don't do this to be liked.

We're scumbags. We find the stink in the back of the cave that everyone else runs away from.

We're not a fluffy dog you can pat - we bite.

Or, put another way, lie down with dogs and you get up with fleas.

- Herald on Sunday

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