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- Privacy vs public interest
- Purpose of publication
- Public figures
- Private individuals
- Public interest or curiosity?
Privacy vs public interest
The status of a person in society is important for determining how much public interest there is in his/her private life. It is important to evaluate whether the release of details about someone’s private life can be justified or not. A person’s status relates not only to how recognizable they are in society, but also to the kinds of public functions they fulfil.
Purpose of publication
The release of details about someone’s private life could be important for a report on issues concerning the public interest. Therefore, journalists and the media have certain freedom to decide which details are necessary for a story. Similarly, certain private information could also be released by a private individual participating in a public debate about issues important to society.
Even in cases were the disclosed private information relates to a subject of public interest, the publisher must ensure that no more information than necessary is made public.
Public figures, such as politicians or celebrities, especially whilst fulfilling their functions, should be ready to accept wider intrusion into their privacy than private individuals.
example The media can report on the drug addiction problems of a famous singer who is a role model for many teenagers. Similarly, the public interest would justify a media report about a member of government taking a yacht cruise during his/her vacation, which was sponsored by a company which had won a public tender.
The private lives of individuals who do not fulfil public functions are protected more strictly than the private lives of public figures. This is because there is generally much less public interest connected with their professional functions or status in society, which would justify the intrusion into their private lives.
Public interest about a certain person or issue does not mean that a person’s private life is not protected. This is also true for public figures.
It means that the publication of details about their private life must be evaluated, taking into account the role they have chosen to undertake in society and the public interest that comes with it. In the case of a dispute, the authors and publishers who disclosed the private information must be able to show:
- how and why the information related to an issue of public interest
- that no more information than necessary has been made public
example If readers already have sufficient information about a minister’s addiction and treatment, it will not be necessary to publish photos of the minister undergoing hospital treatment to give credibility to the story.
Public interest or curiosity?
If a certain report interferes in someone’s private life, the author or publisher must prove that making the private information public was necessary to alert society about a certain issue of public interest. Public interest in someone’s private life should not, however, be confused with public curiosity. Therefore, commercial interests or the entertainment of a certain readership, based on sensations or gossip, most likely will not be considered of legitimate public interest.
example If the only purpose for publishing certain private photographs of a famous person is to satisfy the curiosity of the readership of a certain magazine, it will not contribute to general debate about issues of public interest. Interference in the private life of that person will not be justified in this case.
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