The Challenge of Information: Celebrities And Privacy
An article by CRF Staff.
An entire industry of celebrity journalism has developed. Devoted to satisfying the public's interest in celebrities, these magazines, newspapers, and television programs go well beyond providing basic fan information. They trade in candid photos and intimate stories about romances, failing marriages, and drug abuse.
Stars often complain about photographers hounding them and about seeing their intimate secrets published in the media. Do celebrities have a right to privacy? According to freelance celebrity photographer Russell Turiak, "There's a separate law of privacy for celebrities and private people. When you're a celebrity, you sign away your right to privacy." Is he right?
People can sue if the media reveal highly offensive secrets about them. But there's an exception if the secret is newsworthy. Because the First Amendment provides for freedom of the press, the media cannot be prevented from revealing newsworthy items. The question is: Is everything about a celebrity newsworthy?
People can also sue if someone intrudes into their private space in a highly offensive manner. This could apply to photographers taking pictures of celebrities. But the celebrities must be where they have a "reasonable expectation of privacy." This would exclude most public places. It may even exclude cases of photographers on public property taking pictures of celebrities on private property. Turiak thinks it does: "When they say, oh, they shot right in the window of my house, well, why didn't you pull your shades down?"
Many celebrities call for new laws: Against photographers with high-powered lenses taking pictures of private property without permission. Against photographers waiting in residential neighborhoods. Against the media revealing shockingly personal stories. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) have proposed a federal law against celebrity photographers who "persistently follow or chase" a subject.
Some experts say existing laws can handle the most serious intrusions. According to ABC Legal Editor Arthur Miller, "In many, many instances, these photographers are engaged in other forms of illegal activity. They're trespassing, they're assaulting, they're battering, they're harassing, they're stalking. And I think . . . more celebrities . . . [should have] the gumption to bring lawsuits based on these other theories . . . ."
Peter Hitchens of the London Daily Express warns against taking additional action to protect the privacy of celebrities:
[Y]ou may have to put up with the supermarket tabloids telling some pretty . . . peculiar and unwelcome . . . stories. But you also have the complete freedom of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post to investigate wrongdoing up to the highest level. . . . [T]hese things are indivisible, and if you start restricting the freedom of people to report and take photographs, you start walking down a very, very dangerous road."
But Cass R. Sunstein, a University of Chicago Law School professor, thinks placing some curbs on celebrity journalism would help our democracy:
A democracy is badly served when the media focus so intensely on the personal joys and tragedies of famous people. This kind of "news" crowds out more serious issues, and there is an important difference between the public interest and what interests the public.
more on the issue...