Privacy is becoming increasingly hard to come by, not only in a world watched by the ever-present surveillance camera, but also due to a hungry and powerful press. The case of privacy versus freedom of expression is a constant issue, playing off the rights of the individual against those of the public in a war of legal grey space. With multiple cases emerging from years of mistakes and accusations in the papers, where men and women are wrongly named and accused for crimes that follow them for years due to widespread publication, there is a call for a definitive line to be drawn that cannot be crossed by the journalist. The individual should not be sacrificed to the creation of controversy and corporate profit.
There are laws to punish the phone tappers of the News of the World, and yet there is little legislation in place to prevent the names of crime suspects from entering the papers: an invasive act that can destroy a person’s life by marring their name with crimes they have not been charged for. Rebecca Leighton, the nurse held on remand for six weeks on suspicion of lacing saline drips with insulin, killing several patients, had the picture from her Facebook profile pasted all over the media, whilst they quoted information from her page, and made comments upon the Marilyn Monroe quote she had posted there. Facebook is a public space – whatever you post is what you want the world to see – and yet this was all done before the final verdict. It then became apparent that they did not have enough evidence to convict her of the crime, at which point they dropped the charges, leaving her to be photographed daily and to be publicly scorned despite being deemed innocent, and all because of the naming and shaming caused by the media.
It is true that the situation is not black and white. Rio Ferdinand has recently lost his right to privacy in court after an article was printed detailing his scandalous affair. He broke it off just after becoming England’s captain when he took over from the equally shamed John Terry. The article was deemed justifiable by the judge as the exposure was in the public interest: as a role model he should not show one face to the world and keep another for his mistress.
What celebrities do in their own time is their own problem: what should be addressed fully is the repeated shaming of everyday people without the proper evidence.
What needs to be defined is whether the press are allowed to print the names and pictures of suspects, or those involved in crime; where people of the public, and not your everyday cheating football-playing millionaire, are the ones losing out. There have been many cases where professional figures, namely teachers, have been openly publicised as committing sexual assault or paedophilia before having the charges dropped, and yet people’s opinions have not been corrected. The only form of media apology or correction is usually in the small print, at the backs of papers or in the margins.
This isn’t about censorship; this is about getting the facts right before they are printed, and not printing rumours or suspicions. The importance of the truth in the news is being lost to the idea of controversy and interest – a person’s life should not be destroyed for the sake of a journalist’s pay check. The press should be allowed to publish widely and with liberation, free from any overarching body that could restrict the exposure of the truth, and yet in justifying a story as being in the “interest of the public”, the press forget that the public is not an indefinable mass, but a group of individuals. They need a form of legal protection, to save their names and reputations, before the press sink their ready teeth into them.