Right to Privacy Against Right to Know

The issue on which should prevail between the public or individual’s right to privacy and the media’s right to know has been argued for ages. This dispute has resulted into the pitting of personal privacy against press freedom. The proponents of media's freedom or right to information contended that anything is fair in this world and that there is nothing personal in the performance of the journalists' duties. The critics of free information, however, argued that personal privacy must always be upheld and it should prevail over the media's right.

While the press' rights to know and obligation to gather and make information known to the public justify its activities, this right entails a responsibility. Since media has the power to influence public discussion, its right should be subjected to an obligation, ethical limits, and moral justification. It goes the same way with one's right to privacy. The exercise of seclusion also has its limitations particularly in the cases of public figures.

If an individual opted to be a part of the public world, his or her right to privacy or the enjoyment of private life is likewise restricted. Balancing these two rights, therefore, needs the presentation of fundamental guidelines or laws. In doing so, the head-on collision of these conflicting rights may be lessened, if not prevented. Overview of the right to privacy and right to know According to the Legal Information Institute of the Cornell University Law School, the Constitution has generalized the primary principle and criteria of a wider right to privacy.

While the Constitution has not openly expressed the public's right to privacy, former Justice Louis Brandeis has proclaimed in 1890 the provision of “a right to be left alone. ” This right has evolved into a personal freedom that the 14th amendment upholds. While other amendments also defend the privacy of an individual, the characteristics of this right are limited. As such, one's right to privacy only manifests a limitation to the access of individual information.

The said article by the Institute also stated that the Federal Trade Commission irresistibly implements this legal right to privacy by an individual and evidently promotes the emergence of “privacy policies and statements. ” However, the public's right to privacy must be equated against the powerful interests of the government. These include the “promotion of public morality, protection of the individual's psychological health, and improving the quality of life” (Legal Information Institute).

The media's right to know, on the other hand, is contained in the “Freedom of Information Act” or FOIA. According to the Press Freedom (2000), the Act allows any person a liberty to access any kind of information. The United Stated Department of Justice, however, said that the Act can be summarized as: "Agencies may withhold information pursuant to exemptions The FOIA applies only to federal agencies and does not create a right to records held by Congress, the courts, or by state or local government agencies.

" Although the media benefits from the measure since the Act is an effective and helpful means for gathering information for study, as well as for broadcast and print coverage, it actually connotes a “one-stop shop” for private and classified information. The FOIA was made along this nature for the purpose that any information that is included under the category of “national security” is mostly regarded excused from media's right to know or press freedom (cited in Belrad, 2007).

Being a Public Figure The proponents of an absolutely unsuppressed media dispute that the industry, which is regarded as the Fourth Estate, should not be subjected to any barrier. This is on the popular premise that a person, who avoids disclosure of his or her secrets, is evidently someone who has a mystery to conceal. This goes to say that being a public figure means losing one's right to privacy. This is because people are curious to know something out of that public personality.

The media then, being an industry and a pillar of truth, aims to gain out of one's secret or private information and is also responsible to let the people know about a particular public figure (Belrad, 2007). Unreasonable Disclosure and False Light In upholding the public's right to privacy, it is worthwhile to note “Section 17(1) of the Freedom Information and Protection of Privacy Act” which states that “The head of a public body must refuse to disclose personal information to an applicant if the disclosure would be an unreasonable invasion of a third party's personal privacy.

” The Act simply prevents the unreasonable disclosure of any private information related to a person. In doing so, an individual is protected from public scrutiny and at the same time enjoys the comfort of his or her privacy (“Disclosure Harmful to Personal Privacy”). Invading one's privacy by divulging and publishing any incorrect information is like putting an individual in a false light. This violation of the public's right to privacy is condoned because it does not exclude an individual from ridicule even if the made-up information is incorrect (“Invasion of Privacy: False Light”).

Conclusion The many instances of the press' invasion of private lives has played up the degree to which the media violates the lives of public figures as well as the topic of one's right to privacy. In balancing the public's right to privacy against the media's right to know and information, there is a need to clearly draw the thin line between these two rights. These two rights can co-exist if their corresponding responsibilities are also noted.

One's right to privacy should be observed when a person is living a private life. Once an individual becomes a public figure, he or she would be inevitably scrutinized by society. He or she should therefore be ready to face this challenge. This is on the same note that the media's right to know entails an obligation not to commit unreasonable revelation of one's very sensitive information and place a person in a false light because of wrong information.


Belrad, B. (2007). Privacy Vs. The Press. Associated Content. Retrieved April 22, 2008 from     Associated Content database. “Disclosure Harmful to Personal Privacy. ” (2006). Freedom of Information and Protection     Privacy. Retrieved April 22, 2008 from FOIP database. Legal Information Institute. Right of Privacy: An Overview. Retrieved April 22, 2008, from     http://topics. law. cornell. edu/wex/privacy The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. (2003). Invasion of Privacy: False Light. Retrieved April 22, 2008, from http://www. rcfp. org/handbook/c02p04. html