Should the press be able to print allegations without consulting the person in question?
Although seemingly a small issue, this debate addresses deeper international concerns. A balance needs to be found between right to privacy and freedom of expression. These are articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, respectively.
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For celebrities, gossip mongering is part of the job description
Arguably it is basic human nature to gossip. Moreover, celebrity gossip provides a great source of entertainment for us mere mortals. There are entire businesses (i.e. gossip magazines) based on this. Celebrities earn vast amounts of money and take once in a lifetime opportunities for granted. Thus, unsubstantiated rumours are a small price to pay.
Some of the gossip that's reported can ruin lives. Now I haven't read every celebrity job description but I'm pretty sure they didn't sign up for that. The press is extremely powerful and have enormous ability to get away with half-truths or innuendo. They have a responsibility to tell the truth. By contacting the accused they meet that responsibility.
The public have a right to be informed
If public safety is concerned then the public have a right to be told. The age old saying is that "ignorance is bliss" but at the same time to be informed is to be prepared.
Yes, of course this is the case when a fact is discovered, but it is a totally different ball game when they are unfounded allegations. If people knew that unfounded allegations would tarnish a person they do not like’s record, they would have more volition to do so.
The influence of the press may curb the alleged actions
The fact that the press do have an almost unrestricted power to print information ,as afforded to them by the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, does not have to be viewed negatively. Power goes hand in hand with influence and it can be considered that an individual, especially a celebrity, may be deterred from acting "wrongly" for fear of public disapproval. A bit far fetched perhaps, but the press could be viewed as an unofficial arm of the law!
Power goes hand-in-hand with responsibility. Unfortunately, certain sections of the press can be highly irresponsible. All they care about is selling papers and they wont let the truth get in the way of a good story. This extraordinarily reckless behaviour needs to be curbed.
Mosley's potential change in the law will not work.
Following Max Mosley's hearing against the News of the World in the High Court, he vowed to go to the Strasbourg Court in order to change British law regarding the press' powers to publish allegations without the knowledge of the individual to whom it concerns. He wants the European Court of Human Rights to decide that the current Law for England and Wales should be changed so that "a judge is permitted to scrutinise any claims before they are made public." (Cahal Milmo, "Mosley's crusade to banish 'kiss and tells'" (2008) [online] available at; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/mosleys-crusade-to-banish-kiss-and-tells-952466.html) However, if all allegations had to be scrutinised by a judge then the courts would be more overloaded than they are now. It would not be economic, it would be costly and highly impractical.
The right of the press to publish articles is upheld by the European Convention on Human Rights.
Freedom of expression is a right afforded by law to all citizens of signatory states. The UK is a signatory state and as such the press are entitled to publish these articles. If the press were to be restricted then this would limit the amount of information that the public receives. Moreover on an international scale, the UK could possibly be seen as going against the Convention if the rights of the press were curtailed.
Many countries, France in particular, have privacy laws to protect citizens against unwelcome press intrusion. Freedom of the press does not mean absolute freedom to say whatever they like without consequence.
The press works in the public interest.
The press alerts the public to sub-standard practices, in particular hospitals and doctors. This is an important role for the public’s self interest. Indeed, despite reforms, the self-regulating medical profession has been long thought of as secretive and cliquey. The press allows the public to become informed about matters important to them.
One recent media coverage that sparked anger from the professional concerned was that of a leading IVF doctor who had been accused of sub standard practices (PA, "Leading IVF doctor due before GMC" (2008) [online] available at; http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-wellbeing/health-news/leading-ivf-doctor-due-before-gmc-945493.html).
Although the doctor was investigated and the HFEA declared he had done nothing wrong, the BBC covered this and as a result he is now suing them. However it is thanks to the media that the public gets to find out about these issues whether morally just or not.
Your example demonstrates why the power of the press should be curtailed. This doctor was cleared by a professional body that presumably studied the matter in-depth but was convicted in trial-by-media and who knows the negative consequences of this.
Mud sticks. More people will have heard the accusation than the acquittal. Even then, some will still assume he's guilty.
The media are already regulated on what they can pint
The law lets the press know what they can and can't print. They are fully aware of what they can get away with and because claims for defamation are heard by juries, the values of compensation can be inconsistent and often very high. Therefore more and more magazines, newsapers and even tv programmes are much more careful about what they print. Therefore writing about someone without their permission is regulated and to be honest, comes with the "job" of being a celebrity.
There are plenty of real issues for the press to report.
New issues, old arguments and controversy emerge each day. Thus, the press have plenty to write about. There is no reason for journalists to pry into peoples private lives in search of a good story. One only has to take a look at the current economic climate or government statistics and there will be enough evidence to create a factual and well informed headline to capture the public eye.
The problem is the public isn't as interested in global warming and government mismanagement as they are gossip. If the newspapers cover such events it's because we demand it. The problem doesn't lie with them it lies with us.
It's not just words.
The press can be extremely influential. The effect of a journalist’s catchy headline may cause public arousal for five minutes but may cause the accused a lifetime of hell. Affecting their family relationships, reputation and perhaps even livelihood. Even if an allegation is disproved, the stigma and disapproval may not leave the subject of the allegation alone for a long time.
It is a slippery path.
If the press are given unrestricted power to invade celebrities privacy, then it could open the floodgates for members of the public. For example; whenever there is speculation that a doctor has slipped up or a lawyer may have mishandled paperwork or that a policeman has a controversial private life. Before you know it, those individuals from once respected professions have had not only their own lives ruined but also their professions have been tarred with the same brush. All due to a few allegations that were never based on fact.
There are two slippery paths here. More press restrictions could ultimately lead to a muzzle. All kinds of people could claim protection under these laws, dodgy businessman, politicians, bankers. The press needs all the help it can get to reveal the truth. These proposals would make that harder.
The individual must be looked after.
The right of the press must be checked in order to preserve the rights of the individual. The right to privacy is protected by article 8 of the Convention. The right of the individual must be balanced with the right of society. Newspapers must be careful not to overstep the delicate balance. If they do then international convention will be breached. The press is not a public body so can not be checked by article 6 of the Convention (public bodies must not breach the Convention) but equally the Convention should not be abused.
Individuals need to be looked after? Yet we always talk of the government being too much of a nanny state! The truth is that when someone becomes a celebrity they know what they are getting themselves in for. Celebrities cannot have it their way all the time, they have to take the rough with the smooth and no more protection should be offered to them than they already have.
The courts are an option for celebrities because they have the money and the contacts to get a good representation. It also gives them more publicity, something which they crave.
The effect of allegations on the public may not be positive
Arguable the availability of uncensored and free press should be viewed wearily. It may not be in the public interest for people to be fed every allegation under the sun! If 100% of allegations were taken literally then the public could feel like they were in danger all the time. Knowing about potential concerning issues could possibly create a negative society.
What do you think?