Drawing the line on privacy

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RATINGS WAR: Freedom of information need to be tempered with sensitivity and responsibility

.THE adulation is clear for all to see. Everywhere the couple go, the people flock to see them, whether locals or foreigners. Shaking hands all day, smiles permanently yet genuinely plastered on their faces.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Catherine, must be the celebrity royal couple of the year, maybe even the decade. The eyes of the world are on them.

Girls swooned around the prince when he was younger, and they still do. Kate, as the duchess is more well known, draws attention even more now. Fashion critics eye her every outfit, designers drool over the possibility of clothing her.

And as a celebrity couple, royal or otherwise, they have their fair share of photographers following them around, the kind who happened to also follow Will's mother, Princess Diana, while she was alive.

Kate exudes the kind of poise and elegance her late mother-in-law was known for all throughout her public life, so it is no wonder that she is watched closely, whether for reasons of fashion or otherwise. It is also the reason the paparazzi follow her around. And like Diana, Kate is now caught up in an invasion of privacy debate.

The royal couple were on a short break at Chateau D'Autet, owned by a nephew of Queen Elizabeth II, in Luberon, Provence, when pictures of the duchess sunbathing topless were taken. They were then published by a French magazine.

A spokesman from St James' Palace had this statement to make: "Their Royal Highnesses have been hugely saddened... (they) had every expectation of privacy in the remote house. It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them."

The magazine stands by its decision to publish the photographs, saying the pool was easily seen from a road, but the palace is consulting with lawyers on what legal options are available.

Legal options and invasion of privacy aside, the whole thing boils down to whose rights are bigger. If the pool was in view of a public road, does this mean anyone can take a picture and publish it?

One can argue it is the right of someone to take a picture since it is in full view. But what about the rights of the people whose photograph you are taking? Does someone's right to something stop when it tramples on the rights of others?

The other question here is, as a media organisation, does the magazine not have responsibilities? Was it irresponsible of its editors in printing such pictures, whether or not the people in question are celebrities or just your average Joe and Jane?

It used to be that such irresponsibility belonged only to supermarket tabloids, those purveyors of drivel disguised as news. But even the so-called mainstream papers in the United Kingdom seem to be joining the queue, with one daily (a tabloid, but a mainstream paper nonetheless) printing pictures of a party which Prince William's brother, Harry, probably wishes he never had.

But if irresponsibility is the end product, insensitivity would be the reason. How else would news hitting out at sensitive subjects such as religion get printed?

Years ago, we had the fiery protests regarding the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.

Now, we have similarly violent ones regarding an anti-Muslim video circulating on the Internet.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a recent speech, called the video "inflammable and despicable". And she is only one of a host of world leaders, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who have attacked the video and its producers, whoever they are (some media reports have questioned the first statement of origin and funding).

These leaders have also called on Internet media giant Google to remove the videos from YouTube. Yet Google has refused. The same leaders who have condemned the videos and its producers, however, are calling for calm among Muslims, as the violence continues to spread, leaving several people dead already.

But all these would be moot point if the media would be more responsible. Getting the news out there, freedom of information and winning ratings wars need to be tempered with sensitivity and responsibility, especially in this day and age when information is at one's fingertips.


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