Freedom of the Press or Privacy?

By Mimi Prickett and Minty Eyre
As featured in Pegasus Pages (December 2012). This article also appeared in The Gloucestershire Echo and The Standard.
A free press is ultimately preferable than a right to privacy; in recent decades the press has been a key medium for revealing hidden information about public figures. It most recently manifested itself in the form of the MP’s expenses scandal. A full copy of the uncensored MP’s expenses record was leaked to the Telegraph, who began publishing details of the MP’s expenses claims in daily installments from May 2009 onwards.

On 18th June, the details of all MPs’ expenses and allowance claims were published on the official Parliament website. However it was too late, and “sensitive” details had been removed. This led many to claim that had the full documents not been leaked, many of the most serious abuses would never have come to light. The free press allowed these MP’s to be exposed and, in turn, let justice prevail. The scandal proved that in a democratic society, one simply cannot afford to betray the public’s trust for a duck house.

Similarly to MP’s, those who make a living from public interest have a responsibility to behave and can’t be surprised that the public is interested in them. They should realise that if, whilst in the public domain, they should commit an illegal act or an act which is at odds with the image they present, then the press will and should expose them, lest the public feel duped. Perhaps if this was the case, they would be more likely to set a real example, for fear of being exposed. A free press also enables growth and development within politics and other spheres. Public criticism of the government and other organisations through the press ensures that politicians and other leaders are made aware of public opinion. Restricting the press’ ability to criticise the government and its freedom to report frankly sets us on the road to dictatorship.

The benefits of investigative journalism have been made all too clear in recent weeks with the inquiries about Jimmy Savile and his alleged child sex abuse. Investigative journalism will ensure that cases such as this happen as little as possible or are stopped before they grow to the scale that the Savile inquiries have. Public figures should not be exempt from serious investigation nor should they be above the law. Finally, the press themselves should always act within the confines of the law or else both their reliability and their freedom would have to be compromised.

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