Do People in Public Life Have a Right to Privacy?

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Do People in Public Life Have a Right to Privacy?

People, famous or not, have a right to privacy, which is a basic human right. Although some of them have voluntarily made themselves known to the world, they are still entitled to live a life without others following them all the time, eavesdropping on what they say and being under surveillance. However, in the case of politicians or other powerful people, the right to privacy comes into conflict with another right, the public's right to know. The entitlement and the necessity to get informed are essential to guarantee democracy; this can only be achieved by the freedom of the press. Therefore the right to privacy of certain politicians sometimes has to be neglected to ensure a rightful running of our country. But do we need to get informed about everything there is?

We have to distinguish between famous people. Basically there are those who were seeking a public life - or at least knew to some extent what they were going into - and those who were not. Politicians, athletes, actors, musicians, entertainers and members of royalty belong to the former. The latter are ordinary citizens who become significant, because of their extraordinary experiences, for example victims of crimes or tragedies, but also criminals.

The amount of ordinary citizens who receive their celebrity status unwillingly is quite big and the privacy of those people needs to be especially respected and maintained. Names, addresses or pictures that could lead to the identification of a person should never be made public. It is not of interest for the readers, and it usually does not make a difference for them, what the name of someone is, but for the one concerned publication of identity could mean embarrassment and harassment. Suspected criminals, for instance, could lose their jobs, their families could break up or their whole lives could get destroyed, even when they are innocent. Apart from that, as soon as someone is well known, they are pursued and harassed by journalists demanding interviews. Also in cases where a family just had to experience the loss of a dear person, the press usually shows little respect for that.

While we tend to despise the way the press is treating ordinary people and feel the justification for their right to privacy, we have problems applying the same to people who were seeking a public role. In those cases we tend to think we have a right to the invasion of their privacy, since they have put themselves into the public eye on purpose. We demand to know about their personal lives, but we don't see that this interest is only greediness for amusement.

The press is using this human phenomenon and is sacrificing individual privacy for the entertainment of a general public to increase the circulation of a paper. We are satisfying our voyeurism and we even claim that we have a right to it, but by that we submit ourselves to the tabloid values of a mainstream media and put that under the cover of public interest.

What is public interest? Journalists usually widen this term to use it as an excuse for all forms of reporting, in order to cover up every detail of one's life. But public interest is not necessarily what the public is interested in, which is usually sex and crime; it is not what increases the circulation of a paper; it is not gossip. Public interest is the necessity to have access to essential information that allows us to keep a critical eye on our society. A person's personal lives or gossip about it is not news and not of public interest. But unfortunately, reports about politicians' sex lives are more popular than reports about someone's policies and public actions.

The position of politicians in the eye of the public is especially difficult to judge. On the one hand politicians use their happy family and home in campaigns, on the other hand we know personal particulars and behaviour have nothing to do with competence in running a country and private...
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