Privacy: A Class Apart

Recently the inter-marital affairs of John Terry and the far-from-monogamous behaviour of Tiger Woods dominated the media, calling into question these men’s right to privacy. We are all too familiar with celebrities being hounded by paparazzi; why is it the case that public figures are denied their basic rights?

The concept of privacy is undeniably a basic human right. Article Eight of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”. We must begin to question why it is becoming ever more frequent for major public figures to be excluded from this right to privacy, enjoyed by all of us mere mortals. Where has this social phenomenon derived from? A primary cause lies with the suggestion that the general public en masse have contributed significantly to the success of these figures and, consequently, retain the right to be provided with any information they deem relevant in the lives of these public figures. In the same way that taxpayers have become stakeholders in bailed-out banks, it can be claimed that the general public are investors in the success of celebrities. If Chelsea has used the revenue gained from the sale of your season ticket towards developing the training facilities and coaching staff, and this has contributed to the development of John Terry as a player and contributed to his success as a footballer, you may argue that you’ve got some of your money invested in Terry and deserve to know about factors affecting your investment.

This position, however, seems rather untenable. Could you honestly hold the position that John Terry would’ve ended up being a builder without your support? Or that Tiger Woods wouldn’t be likely to become the first ever billionaire athlete if you hadn’t followed his tournaments so religiously? No, you couldn’t. The fact of the matter is that a high percentage of personal success is down to the natural talents and abilities of the individual.

If we’re not viewing ourselves as investors in the commodity of humans, how else do people attempt to justify public figures being denied their rights to privacy? A popular view is that celebrities reap the benefits of positive media coverage and such, shouldn’t really complain when their exploitation of the media is repaid with a similar sense of exploitation. The notion of being “out there” is often employed as reason for media attention. Presumably “there” is the realm of another rather arbitrary world dubbed “the public eye”. The bottom line is that public figures should accept that their rights to privacy are different to ours: nonexistent, in fact. Bequeathing your right to privacy to the baying general public is a simple fact of celebritihood. Yet, surely this viewpoint glosses over the notion of universality rather too complacently? Our fundamental right to privacy is laid down for all, regardless of stature, wealth, celebrity or popularity. Why is it becoming acceptable for there to be a divergence in the notion of rights, when their sole aim is to place everyone on a level playing field?

We can find a good example of this divergence between the rights of the general public and the rights of those in the “public eye” in the wake of the controversy caused by Frankie Boyle. Fans of Mock the Week will be well aware of Boyle’s approach to comedy that spares no one. However, in the wake of a comment made about Olympic gold medal winner Rebecca Adlington, Boyle was judged to have overstepped the bounds of appropriateness a little too far. The reason for this was because it was deemed that Rebecca Adlington didn’t deserve such an insult because she doesn’t place herself in the “public eye”. But surely, no one is deserving of insult regardless of whether they’re in the “public eye” or not. Boyle’s countless other (hilarious) comments about other celebrities were deemed suitable because he was targeting public figures who have exploited the media for personal gain and as such, deserve, or at least should expect to be targeted in return. As such, it is becoming more and more evident that universality with regard to rights to privacy is becoming some sort of perverse representation of the tax system, where in this case, the highest earners are afforded the least privacy.

Monogamy and the sanctity of marriage and all the baggage that comes with these issues is a debate for another day. The salient point to take away is this: unless we reconsider our perspectives and reaffirm the universality behind the enactment of our rights to privacy, we will soon encounter a new elite club of public figures whose rights to privacy are forcibly forfeited by a new wave of disregard. You can be assured that this is one club that Terry, Woods et al won’t want to be on the guest list for.

This article was first published in the Nottingham Philosophical Review, a monthly online publication run by Nottingham students, which is available at www.npr-online.com.

Albert Weatherill

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