Media Backlash over Trustee Candidate

Luke O’Brien’s take on the media storm around Zack Young’s candidacy.

Late on Saturday night, we received an anonymous email routed from Austria that gave some details about Zack Young’s private life. As an editorial team we debated whether to publish this for hours, and decided that we would hold fire until we had a response from Mr Young. We were not alone in our deliberations – over at Wessex Scene HQ they had discovered the same story and were awaiting a formal statement from Zack. However, the Portswood Press did not hesitate to pull the trigger, publishing this article which collates reports from 2008 on his conduct in Big Brother’s Celebrity Breakout and his various business dealings.

When we look at this issue in the broader context of Media Ethics and life post-Leveson Inquiry, some immediate questions are raised:

  • Is this in the public interest?
  • How can we cover this while still respecting Mr Young’s privacy?
  • And how are the other media outlets covering this?

Firstly, public interest. In our Southampton microcosm, I’d say a public figure is defined as any Union officer and any candidate for Union Office. With this definition, Mr Young certainly is in the public eye. As Tab journalists we feel obligated to uncover the truth in any big story, and when we received information from a source we were duty bound to investigate. In this case, The Tab’s tabloid style is perfectly suited to this story and it wasn’t difficult to find out that the tip off was correct. But when it involves historical events and a person’s private life, where do we draw the line?

With the phone-hacking scandal and stories of unscrupulous hacks rummaging through celebrities’ bins, privacy is a hot topic. Mr Young’s personal blog covers his time on Big Brother, and we’ve already published his statement to the Wessex Scene here. With this being such a huge story (in Southampton terms anyway!)  I think the two big student media outlets have done well to respect his privacy given the circumstances. This was a huge issue; we knew it was going to come out imminently, but we didn’t want to run Mr Young’s name through the mud. After all, he has to live in Southampton for another two years or so and this is a hell of a reputation to have.

The biggest problem I have here is with other independent media outlets and their behaviour around this issue. As I touched upon earlier, Portswood Press broke the story first and have been roundly criticised on Twitter. Self proclaimed SUSU Politics expert David Howell soon weighed in on his blog, going as far as to not only discredit Mr Young, but his friend and fellow Trustee candidate Emma Miles. His reasoning is that Mr Young cannot be trusted in a position of financial responsibility. I would argue in the complete opposite direction. Young has proven financial experience, identifies himself as an entrepreneur and, crucially, he has made mistakes before. When you learn from your own mistakes, you grow and develop as a person. I commend Zack Young for not hiding from his past, for moving on with his life and for running in SUSU elections after only 6 months in Southampton.

Consider this a Soton Tab endorsement.