In Brussels, Actor Tries Role as Critic (Ever-so Politely, of Course)
June 27, 2012, 8:17 pm
|FROM TOP: Hugh Grant signing an autograph before meeting Martin Schulz; EP staffers taking photos; Mr Grant, with and without glasses in the hemicycle.
TOP PHOTO: © L'Anglophone 2012
OTHER PHOTOS: © European Union/EP 2012
BRUSSELS – FADE IN: At the European Parliament, voices from every European country and from every political party fall silent. Everyone wants to know what the man from Britain has to say.
To say this sounds like a Hollywood script isn't too far off: The Brit in question was none other than Hugh Grant, who came to make his case against media companies he feels are undermining democracy.
While the Hollywood star may be happy that the media has given so much coverage to his films (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually and Notting Hill, to name but three), he is far less pleased with the invasions of his privacy that fame has brought.
While a lack of privacy is an issue for many celebrities, Mr Grant sees it as an issue for democracy. During the phone-hacking scandal of 2011, the Oxford-educated actor turned the tables on the media by secretly recording a conversation with a tabloid journalist who implicated top politicians and guessed that 20% of the police had taken bribes from the media. Mr Grant published the transcript in The New Statesman.
Grant's Statement, Part 1: The Media Should Not Run the Government...
"I don't know how closely people have followed events in the UK recently," began Mr Grant, who went on to describe the Leveson Inquiry into phone-hacking by the media of "particularly very vulnerable people – families of murder victims, et cetera."
"We've had the police being corrupted, we've had government effectively...in bed with certain news organizsations. And people are often astonished that these things could have happened in a democratic country like Britain and ask how that can happen. And really the answer is: Fear. That people, or certain news groups, were allowed to live above the law because of fear on the part of politicians - and that fear just simply stems from the power of those media organisations. And that power comes from how much of the media they own... "
He said that he had come to Brussels to support the idea of limiting – via "perhaps a directive" – the percentage of of country's media that can be owned by an individual person or company. A too-powerful media has too much sway over the government not only in Britain, he said, but also in Italy under Silvio Berlusconi.
Grant's Statement, Part 2: ...Or Vice-versa
The issues in Britain and Italy are "really the other side to the great danger of too much State control of the media, which is equally terrifying," said Mr Grant, "and one has to be equally vigilant about that, if you look at Hungary an example." (See this story from The Guardian for background on new press restrictions in Hungary under Viktor Orbán).
"So you got two evils. You got [the] State controlling media and on the other side you have the media controlling the State, what you are really having in the UK. We were here to just raise the flag about the media controlling the State," his statement concluded.
Everything but the Red Carpet
Upon his arrival at the offices of European Parliament president Martin Schulz (SDP, S&D), the buildings wide hallways seemed designed to accomodate the rows of female staffers eager to catch a glimpse of the world-famous star.
Competing with the media themselves, staff members stood on their toes and extended their arms toward the ceiling to take photos with their telephones and electronic tablets.
What was he like? "Cordial...really polite. Like he doesn't want to be the centre of attention but knows he is but he's determined to get through it," said one eyewitness. "Just like in his movies."
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