Media Should Respect Privacy Of Public Figures

1377 words - 6 pages

The Media Should Respect Privacy of Public Figures

How much privacy of the individual is protected under the United States Constitution? Every one is entitled to the right of privacy, but to what extent is that privacy granted? Public figures are constantly being harassed and photographed by the media. Some photographers and reporters will go to any means, even illegal actions, to get a picture or story. However, public figures are human beings like everyone else, and the media should give them more privacy. The media needs to operate with more respect for both laws and for moral and ethical codes of conduct. There are laws establishing the privacy of an individual, and the media needs to extend these rights to public figures.

Are public officials entitled to private lives? The answer, up until two generations ago was a clear yes (Knowlton, 51). President Franklin D. Roosevelt used a wheel chair or braces, but that disability was rarely mentioned and almost never photographed. Many previous presidents were unfaithful to their wives, but the media did not cover these affairs that were common knowledge to the press corps (Knowlton, 51). However, the extramarital affairs of President Clinton are being widely covered by the media. The ethical code of conduct has fallen apart, and the media has new views on the amount of privacy that should be extended to public figures.

According to Steven Knowlton, author of Moral Reasoning for Journalists, "Celebrities of all sorts-musicians, athletes, entertainers, and others-make their living from the public and the public therefore in a sense employs them, just as it employs governors and presidents..."(54). Most journalists figure that celebrities voluntarily surrender their privacy as part of an unwritten contract with the members of society who pay their salaries through purchasing. Additionally, the Supreme Court ruled in the 1964 Sullivan v. New York Times case that vulnerability is taken as a price of admission to the public arena. Thus, the privilege to cover public figures is almost unlimited, and public figures have few privacy rights.

People reasonably expect privacy inside a house or fenced yard not visible from the street and inside living facilities such as in hospitals and nursing homes. Photographers need permission to both enter and photograph these private places. However, anyone is fair game to be photographed and have their picture published if the photo was taken from a public place. This includes people seen through the windows of their own home (Dill, 178). However, one New York Court ruled that photographers shooting inside a restaurant needed permission because the restaurant was a public place for purposes of dining, and patrons dining there should reasonably be allowed to dine in peace (Dill, 177). Even though it is currently legal to photograph public figures in the privacy of their own homes, ethically speaking it does not mean these pictures should be...

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