Currently sat in a very warm kitchen, sipping on a cup of English Breakfast and attempting to chip away at a rather large workload I’ve acquired. As I’m writing this blog, it appears I am not doing particularly well. So far I’ve managed to blame the sunshine, Jarvis Cocker and the cat as to why I’m not working – but let’s be honest, I’m just rather distracted today.
One of the pieces I’m currently writing is of the state of privacy vs. press freedom in regards to matters in the public interest and through my research so far it has become quite an interesting topic to morally consider.
Within Ethical Issues in Journalism and the Media by Andrew Belsey, he states: “Clearly, we live in a society that values personal privacy, and is concerned about intrusions into privacy from whatever source, including the media. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, we also line in a society that thrives on publicity, or at least one in which many individuals depend on publicity for their lives and activities.”
Alongside this also, we need to consider what, as a society, we believe the definition of privacy is. To what level do we believe people’s lives should be private – or do those who live their lives in the public limelight have a right to privacy at all?
Sir David Calcutt QC was quoted in saying during the 1980’s that privacy: “could be regarded as the anthithesis of what is public: hence everything concerning an individuals’ home, family, religion, health, sexuality, personal legal and personal financial affairs… On the other hand, an individual is a member of society and, as such, cannot expect to enjoy total privacy.”
The media and those who work within it have the constant moral debate over how far to take “in the public interest”. Does this mean knocking on the door of a mother who has just lost her only son if the greater public want to hear her story. Or publishing a story about a politician who is using his/her expenses to buy champagne. Where is the line and do average law-abiding people have a different right to privacy than those whose job is to address the public.
This same situation can be applied to events. If someone has, what could be considered as, a private moment – such as a mental breakdown – within the public sphere, can the media report on it?
As there is no official tort of privacy in the UK, unlike the USA, Libel Law uses the Campbell test – the reasonable expectation of privacy and in the public interest – in order to help determine whether a report could be potentially defamatory in regards of a person’s privacy. But yet again, within this there is the phrase “in the public interest”
Unfortunately for the media, this little phrase can fully determine what cases get reported upon – it is a case of supply and demand. If people want to hear about a certain celebrity affair or gruesome murder, they will buy the paper or watch the news which features said case.
One could argue that it is the media’s responsibility to “gatekeep” what news they publish – but then is this not particularly condescending to say to their audiences cannot decide on which news they want to hear about themselves?