Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Harry Potter author JK Rowling can't re-write her life's new chapter of fame

JK Rowling

I reckon this column might be viewed as the journalistic equivalent of the men who go onto the iceflow to club baby seals.

I need to talk about Joanna. I'm talking about JK Rowling. Not sure when she adopted the JK, but initials clearly do something for the credential of an intellectual or artist, don't they (see EE Cummings and how about JK Galbraith), but you need some chutzpah to pull it off.

Anyway, Joanna is, of course, ridiculously successful on a global scale, so needn't worry too much about what I'm going to say. I just wonder if she thinks she can have it both ways.

She is fiercely protective of her privacy and that is fine. But she is also a poster girl for a new kind of pernicious view that argues the rich, powerful, or successful should have more protection from the gaze of the rest of us.

It is currently manifesting itself through the Leveson Inquiry on the Press, to which JK gave evidence, her icy beauty seemingly captivating the noble judge.

She doesn't want paparazzi lenses shoved in her face, or journalists sending home messages via her children at school.

That's fine. But there's an issue here. She is prepared to tell all, or quite a bit, at the time and place of her own choosing. That is true of so many of the bizarrely assembled witnesses who have paraded through Leveson.

Ms Rowling's narrative of the single mum battling against the odds to write a book in an Edinburgh cafe is a stirring one. You can barely switch on the TV, or open a newspaper, without stumbling across some revealing interview, or article, on her at the moment.

It's all to do with the publication of her first adult book, The Casual Vacancy, now piled high in your local superstore.

Newspapers were forbidden from reviewing the book before it went on sale, an almost unheard of restriction that her stardom ensured would be abided by. It was just as well, because the critics have been pretty brutal ("wilfully banal" - the New York Times), but let's set that aside.

I don't have a problem at all with JK Rowling, my sons grew up on her magical tales of the young wizard, but I do have an issue with the story of the lone woman battling the forces of darkness manifesting themselves as the world's Press, who would pry into her underwear drawer given half the chance. If given undue prominence it risks curtailing of the freedom of expression that we should hold so dear.

There is no law that can separate the world-famous novelist from the chief executive of Exxon when it comes to privacy. Any society whose narratives are controlled solely by the rich, or the powerful, is a warped one.

Let's have a look at a bit more detail of JK's Leveson testimony. The author told the judge that her daughter had come home from school with a note in her schoolbag asking for an interview from a reporter placed by a parent who may or may not have been the journalist.

This might make you feel queasy and rightly made Rowling unhappy.

But, frankly speaking, she probably threw the letter in the bin and should have marched up to the school to give the parent an earful. It's not much of a case for more legislation on the media, is it? At Leveson, she bemoaned (and I honestly feel for her on this) that she did not have the choice to live her life as other people did.

The truth is, with or without The Sun newspaper, she cannot. Unless she wants to reverse time and take back those fantastic books, she is endlessly fascinating to us in the way a bank clerk is not. That is the business she is in. It is a well-rewarded one.

All this wouldn't matter so much if we didn't live in revenge-soaked times, where the threat to tie the hands tighter of those who would inquire into society's workings is real.

If Leveson paves the way for privacy laws, not even Harry Potter will be able to put that genie back in the bottle.

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