The media has always been blamed for invading the privacy of individuals. Notably, the media fraternity can sometimes expose the lives of people mercilessly. It lays bare their private lives for all and sundry to see, thereby causing unwanted attention. There has always been an issue with regard to delineating the limits of informing the people about what they deem as newsworthy, and intrusion of privacy. The essence of news is believed to be informative and giving the citizens of a free society informed news that is newsworthy.
News has become an indispensable part of life and it is considered the most important means of conveying the truth to people. It has the power to influence the minds of people very strongly because of its reach and the credible image it tries to portray. However, there seems to be a conflict and lack of clear distinction of the boundaries that differentiate privacy and newsworthy. The sensational media has the tendency to intrude the private lives of individuals, and more so celebrities, at the expense of their individual privacy. These people’s lives become open for the viewers to see and judge and the media sensationalizes even the most trivial things to improve their ratings. The media fraternity should strike a balance between the citizens’ needs as a free society to be informed on newsworthy issues, and still honor individual privacy.
Media- Informative or Intrusive?
In a democratic and free society, there is freedom of media and freedom of self expression as well. In such a society, the media uses this kind of freedom as a tool with which to invade the privacy of individuals. This raises a concern on whether the media can be trusted with striking a balance between individuals’ privacy interest and the free flow of informative news that catches the public interest.
Towards this end, they are those of us who are of the opinion that the media should be regulated to a certain extent, in order to avoid abuse of freedom granted to them. However, proponents of media freedom have been quick to oppose such a move, terming it as a breach of the basic human rights. Nonetheless, there is still the need to define what qualifies to be termed newsworthy. In an article “What’s Newsworthy” by Profita (2006), the author says that, the judgment of the worthiness of a story is not measured through a quantifiable standards but it has to meet some requirements to make it newsworthy. The implication made by this article is that there has not been established a set of standards that define newsworthiness but nonetheless, there exists factors that have to be met so that a news story can be considered newsworthy, or not.
For example, news that impacts on people in the society without invading their privacy is considered as newsworthy. For instance, the ‘9/11 terrorists attack’ on American soil is considered as newsworthy as it had a major impact of the daily lives of people from all walks of life. Ensuring transmission of such incidents to the public helps to increase their awareness and helps them to get prepared to tackle similar incidents. It is important however to note that conflict in the broad context propels news to be categorised as newsworthy. This is because conflict is part of human drama that interest people.
The two dimensions strike a balance on newsworthy information being availed to the citizens and at the same time respecting the privacy of the people. Some news that could be claimed to have invaded individual privacy is that of Princess Diana’s death in 1997 (Overbeck and Belmas 202). The issue of newsworthiness and privacy conflicted in this case. Although the public wanted to hear more of the events that led to her tragic death, the media did not limit itself to the extent in which it focused its attention on.
Privacy is a major fundamental freedom that covers human dignity and ensures liberty (Hilnick 3). This implies that individual private life should be respected by a third party like the journalists. The media is often faced with a thin line in differentiating what the public needs to hear as newsworthy and the invasion of privacy (Hilnick, 7). For example, when the U.S was hit by a tornado, every person wanted to see the news and know what was happening for reasons pertaining to their own safety which make it a newsworthy because of its informative nature.
However, supposing the media took pictures of people drowning or dead people or unknowingly interviews the family members of the victims and takes pictures of the parents crying. In the process they are requested by the family members not to use the interview clip and pictures on a national television but go ahead and do the contrary. Then this could be termed as an invasion of individual rights. Nonetheless, from the point of view of the victims that would be invasion of privacy.
A part of the public would sympathize with the victims while others would like to know more. Based on the example, the media should cover news that does not make the public feel outraged by the news. They should focus on relevance of the event occurrence rather than exploiting the grief portrayed in an event (Hilnick 9). The media should be ethical enough and evaluate what they are reporting and not use media freedom expression and media freedom on their advantage.
Informed consent is necessary in matters that pertains the privacy of individual. For instance, media can run a clip but withhold the identity of the individuals for privacy reasons. This would be appealing to the public and be categorised as newsworthy.
Therefore, media should be able to draw a line between what is newsworthy and invasion of individual life. Some factors need to be considered before the presentation of news to the public. Newsworthy issues should have impact to the public, not abuse the media freedom of expression and media freedom, be relevant, informative, and limited from invasion of individual’s privacy.
Hulnick, Gail. “Defining the line between the public’s right to know and the individual’s right to privacy”. n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2012.
Profita, Hilary. “What's Newsworthy?” CBS News. 21 Feb. 2006. Web. 10 Feb. 2012.
Overbeck, Wayne and Genelle, Belmas. Major Principles of Media Law. Wadsworth Pub Co, 2011.