Freedom of the Press Versus Right to Privacy

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Freedom of the press versus right to privacy
ByRobert Skidelsky (China Daily)
Privacy has become a big issue in contemporary jurisprudence. The "right to privacy" is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But Article 8 is balanced by Article 10, which guarantees "free expression of opinion". So what right has priority when they conflict?

Under what circumstances, for example, is it right to curtail press freedom in order to protect the right to privacy, or vice versa? The same balance is being sought between the right of citizens to data privacy and government demands for access to personal information to fight crime, terrorism, and so on.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental democratic liberty. It is a necessary protection against abuses of power and cover-ups of wrongdoing by public officials. It was never more effectively displayed than in the Watergate investigation, which brought down Richard Nixon in 1974.

But one can have too much press freedom. Over the years, the tabloid press has become increasingly intrusive, claiming the right not just to expose corruption and incompetence in high places, but to titillate readers with scandalous revelations about the private lives of the famous.

What started off as entertaining gossip about royalty and film stars has burgeoned into a massive assault on privacy, with newspapers claiming that any attempt to keep them out of the bedroom is an assault on free speech.

The issue has just been tested in Britain's High Court.

In March, Britain's leading scandal sheet, The News of the World, published an "exclusive" front page story, under the headline "F1 Boss Has Sick Nazi Orgy With 5 Hookers".

It told how Max Mosley, President of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA, the body that oversees world motoring and racing) and son of the former British fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, had, two days...
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