MPs are always ‘on the record’, says Balls
And, he said, this rule must apply to anybody ‘who seeks to take the role of moral leadership’.
He said the Government must consider setting up an inquiry into the UK’s privacy laws – and the current situation which allows people to blog and Twitter but stops newspapers publishing sensitive information.
Footballers who profit from their image by winning contracts with companies deserved to be exposed. An actor who played a part and did not seek to give a moral lead, was entitled to a private life.
Among the audience at the lunch the Sheraton Knightsbridge were national newspaper editors Colin Myler (News of the World), Richard Wallace (The Mirror) and John Mullin (Independent on Sunday) as well as Head of Sky News John Ryley. Politicians attending included Lord Kinnock, former Conservative Minister Peter Bottomley and Baroness Scotland, the Shadow Attorney General.
Mr Balls said, “Last week I was speaking at LSE and they asked me if I wanted ‘Chatham House rules’. Looking at the audience clutching their iPhones and Blackberries, I just laughed. Today we are watched all time – and reported in real time on Twitter.
“I am clear that as a politician I should have no expectation of privacy in the event of legal wrong-doing or double standards or if I am engaging in immoral behaviour.
“But I fully expect my children’s privacy to be respected – as it has been.
“I am affronted by the powerful – those who trade on their image – using the law to protect their privacy, by which I mean the exposing of their hypocrisy.
“But I do not think this means that there is a public interest in the public knowing all the details of the lives of every person whose name they have heard of – and even less so of their relatives, who they have never heard of.
“The fact is that these have always been – and will always be – very difficult judgements, necessarily made case by case – and there must always be recourse to the courts, if self-regulation fails. But we should be as vigilant against a lurch to privacy against the public interest as we should be determined to prevent a free-for-all.”
“Technological innovation”, he said, “leads to the ‘understandable frustration of many people in this room’ that there appears to be currently one rule for national newspapers and broadcasters and another for Twitter and the internet.
“And this is one challenge that will certainly need to be addressed: including if the government does establish an inquiry – parliamentary or expert – to investigate the current state of our privacy laws, ” he said.
The lunch was sponsored by Google and another £1,100 was raised from the guests in the raffle.