Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

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Adamma Sargeant 
Glyn Mon Hughes
Studying as Journalists- 4032JOURN
Assignment 2- Law Essay 

pg.1 

Why would a journalist sometimes find the ethical balance between privacy and the public interest difficult?

As a journalist there may be times when it is difficult to respect the privacy of an individual whilst also balancing carrying out investigations that are in the interest of the public. Journalists are also expected to carry out uncompromising investigations, but this can sometimes contradict what is under the discretion of the private life of an individual. However it is much more complex than it simply being a discussion of ethics, as there are various legal restrictions on an individuals privacy. 

In journalistic terms privacy involves that in which an individual may wish to keep from becoming civic knowledge. Certain cases that people may wish to hide could be-cases that involve criminal activity, corruption and incompetence. This being said, to some, the demand from the public interest may outweigh an individuals privacy. Here lies the question: Is there a way to respect the private lives of an individual whilst also providing information on them that is in the publics interest? 

It is also interesting to note that not all subjects that are of public interest actually interest the public. For example information regarding the world trade market is in the publics interest, but for many members of the public they would much rather read an expose on a celebrity. 

Different organisations and countries have different views on what information can be given out in the ‘publics interest’. For example in Western countries when there is a death, it is required that the family are notified first. However in Japan the media are allowed to publish the names of the dead without restrictions. 

Here in the UK it is possible for somebody to attain an “anonymised injection” from, a court. This specifically prevents the names of any party involved being published-if the information where to be published it would then be seen as a ‘breach of confidence’. To go a step further than this, it is also possible to attain a ‘super injunction’ which prevents any publication of the disclosed information. A famous example of this was the case of Ryan Giggs, a footballer. The Sun gained information regarding an extramarital affair he was having and he obtained an injunction in order to stop them publishing such information. However 75,000 tweets later named him as well as a member of parliament. Cases such as these show that social media platforms such as Twitter, are able to undermine the rulings of the court. 

Whilst some people believe that celebrities are just like everyone else, and should have their privacy respected. Others use the argument that it is what they ‘signed up for’ as when you become a celebrity it is as if you prepared to sacrifice your private life and in return you receive all the fame and fortunes that go along with it. It has proven to be extremely difficult to determine which argument is right as although under The Human Rights Act, privacy is entrenched, so is the freedom of expression. 

In direct counter to this there is the argument that because celebrities are neither appointed nor elected by the public, sharing private details regarding their off-stage lives isn’t in the interest of the public. 

In 2001 International supermodel Naomi Campbell filed for a breach of confidence as well as a breach of the Data Protection Act(1998) against the Daily Mirror after they published an article exposing her as being in a drug rehabilitation centre. The article included photographs of Naomi leaving the drug rehabilitation centre as well as information regarding where,when and how she was receiving the treatment. The House of Lords made the judgement in favour of Naomi, determining it as “wrongful disclosure of private information”.  

While the argument regarding the privacy of celebrities is a bit of a grey area, it is widely agreed that the media should scrutinise and examine the lives of those who are public figures who are appointed or elected. 

As well as the ones mentioned there are other legal restrictions on journalists. Under the Public Order it is an offence to “publish threatening,abusive or insulting material or the intention of which, where the likely effect is to stir up hatred against any group in the community by reference to colour,race,nationality,citizenship,ethnic or national origins.”
Other legal restrictions include The Official Secrets Acts. This is “designed to prevent the publication or broadcasting of important information that is in the public interest to keep secret, as to reveal it to the general public could imperil the security and peace of the population.” Although these ‘laws’ work theoretically, they are dirt widely put into practice, and new platforms like social media have made it very difficult to condemn one individual. 

If the information is telling you something about a persons character- especially if that contradicts the person they are putting across then it is in the publics interest that that information is reported on. It is also applicable if in their private lives they do something that could affect the good of the public.  However whatever a public figure does in their own home has nothing to do with public interest no matter how weird it may be. If it does not affect the public then the press should not pretend as though they have a responsibility to broadcast it. I.e. Their must be some sort of public benefit for the intrusion of privacy to be outweighed by public interest. 

Journalists should not just use the phrase ‘public interest’ to justify publications that include sensitive and intrusive information.