Public figures have been growing in importance with the inception of new and burgeoning media. The continuous thirst for new stories and more information on the part of journalists, editors and television channels has shot up public figures to the status of demigods, who hold a special influence over the public. However, due to the glamour appeal of these celebrities, their privacy has also been intruded by the media. The very media that has benefited the public figures has used the same rationale to penetrate the boundary of private information related to these public figures.
According to some commentators, disclosure of privacy is appropriate, while some critics vehemently oppose the disclosure of private information of public figures. Privacy rights do have their own importance in a civilized society. However, various methods have been suggested to weigh the need for releasing information by the media personnel, with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. It is proposed that the best method to decide the release of private information is the Gauthier’s Utilitarian Analysis. Discussion
Pros and cons of the privacy rights of celebrities, which conflict with the freedom of expression of the media are discussed below. Media’s right to portray the private lives of celebrities The first debatable point is whether public figures, or others of renown in public eyes, actually have the right to stake a claim to what they term, their own private matters. These figures enjoy the advantages of being in the limelight, and extract due compensation because of being will-known. Sponsorship and other endowments, which sports stars and celebrities such as Jade Goody in Britain enjoyed, bears testimony to this reward scheme.
It leads to the argument that since these individuals enjoy the rapid advantage of being propelled very high in the eyes of the public, enjoying influence over a range of people, and even bearing financial rewards through their popularity, the media has a right to reveal information about them, which may be potentially harmful to them as well; and thus, eliminating the privacy boundary. This is supported by Kirtley (2004), where she outlines, how the sentence for property of Barbra Streisand, by Allan J. Goodman, the judge of Los Angeles Supreme Court, inferred that celebrities’ privacy can be revealed by the media.
This gains more importance in the case of public officials who hold public office. Information relating to their personal lives may be essential for voters to decide whether they would like to elect the person, which highlights the important role of media in this regard. Public figures need protection of their privacy However, there is another contrasting side to this argument. Civilized society is based on some level of privacy being maintained for all individuals. Indeed, it is even held as a constitutional right in some states.
If this right is not allowed to public figures, they may end up taking desperate and often harmful measures (Gauthier 2002). A political figure may refrain from medical checkup as its release in the media may force the incumbent to leave the office. Freydkin (2004) discusses about the tragic condition of the movie star, Courtney Cox, who was forced to release photos of her new born baby to the media to protect her family business. Thus, it is apparent that some level of privacy should, at least, be maintained to stem the harmful effects, which extensive media invasion can lead to.
The freedom of the press needs to be maintained at all costs as it is crucial for any society. Therefore, any measure in this regard needs to involve some screening of information, which comes directly into the hands of the media. The tolerance limit for privacy disclosure It is, however, very difficult to judge, which information needs to be brought before the eyes of the public, and which one is to be left alone. One method could involve legislation, and putting a strong message across the media to act responsibly.
However, it has many drawbacks, and it could infringe on the freedom of the press at some point. Another step that could be used is Gauthier’s Kantian model. It incorporates creation of a mindset, where media personnel show consideration for the public figures involved. It involves deontological thinking that some acts are inherently bad, and others are good. However, it is not workable in all situations. An act that constitutes inherently good or bad, may have different meanings in contrasting cultures and situations.
Another method that is possible is the procedure of analyzing through power shifts (Gauthier 2002). It involves considering whether a shift of power comes from the release of certain information. It provides a relatively more effective method of screening, but it puts too much power in the hands of the media. It is harmful in itself, and may lead to many biased considerations. For example, power needs to be with the people, but not with the tools they have created for disseminating information, of which, the media is an integral part.
The power shift method will concentrate influence purely in the hands of journalists. Therefore, it is proposed that the utilitarian analysis is the best way for media personnel to decide whether some information should be released or not (Gauthier 2002). This analysis involves taking into consideration the relative costs and benefits for releasing information under different situations, and then deciding whether releasing it does good or harm. In the former case, it should be brought to the public’s eyes, and it is also supported by regulatory bodies as well.
Accounting regulators debated whether Apple’s concealment of the health situation of their CEO, Steve Jobs, constituted an accounting fraud, as his accurate health situation could be considered material information for investors. In this case, releasing information about the health of Steve Jobs, an inherently private piece of information, may actually have more advantage than disadvantage. Therefore, it should be released to the public for broader benefit. Conclusion It can be concluded that there is a small gap between private and public information with reference to public figures.
Public figures have willingly chosen this profession, which is bound to put them and their private lives into the limelight. To address the issue of right to privacy, a sincere judgment needs to be made on part of the media based on a utilitarian analysis (Gauthier 2002). If the advantages of a particular release of information are seen as causing greater benefit than harm, then it should be divulged. Perhaps, it requires tremendous burden on editors, reporters, and news people, who would be making this judgment. It is, by no means, a fool-proof method that could result in questionable decisions.
However, this is the choice that public figures have willingly made, and it comes with certain costs. In summary, public figure should accept certain amount of private information revelation, but the press also should consider standards based on Gauthier’s ethical model. References Freydkin, D. (June 7, 2004). Celebrities fight for privacy. USA Today. Retrieved June 29, 2009, from http://www. usatoday. com/life/people/2004-07-06-celeb-privacy_x. htm Gauthier, C. (2002). Privacy invasion by the news media: Three ethical models. Journal of Mass Media Ethics: Exploring Questions of Media Morality. 17. Retrieved June 22,
2009, from http://www. informaworld. com/smpp/ftinterface? content=a785381910&rt=0&format=p Kirtley, J. (March 2004). Bashful Barbra: A judge rules Streisand’s privacy wasn’t violated by a photo of her property. Questia. Retrieved June 29, 2009, from: http://www. questiaschool. com/read/5006038360? title=Bashful%20Barbra%3A%20A%2 0Judge%20Rules%20Streisand%27s%20Privacy%20Wasn%27t%20Violated%20by%20 a%20Photo%20of%20Her%20Property Sunstein, C. (Oct 28, 2005). The challenge of information: Celebrities and privacy. CRF Forum. Retrieved June 29, 2009, from http://www. crfforum. org/topics/? topicid=4&catid=3&view=document&id=5