After the untimely and unfortunate demise of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput, almost every citizen of the country has a theoretical explanation about the reason of his suicide backed by the reports of fickle and over-zealous news reporters. However, this is not the first time the country has taken a deep interest in a celebrity scandal and it definitely would not be the last. This article aims to see the other side of the glamorous public lives of the celebrities through the lens of human rights, the role of media in swaying the sentiments of the public and the how they have often failed to acknowledge and respect the celebrities’ right to privacy.
The Game Between Public Figures And News Reporters Over The Years
Armed with a camera and a mic, the reporters, commonly known as paparazzi, have often gone to great lengths in order to get the news which could give them an edge over their colleagues and create a larger interest among their subscribers towards their magazines and newspapers. The advancement of internet, especially social media, has also played a huge role in disseminating the information, even at the cost of privacy of their subject matter.
There have been many instances throughout the years where the reporters have hounded public figures for their exclusive news reports which has sometimes led to rather unfortunate events. For instance, the paparazzi have been considered a huge contributor to the death of Princess Diana of Wales in 1997 when she was chased by several photographers one night.
This situation is not geographically isolated and, in some places, has reached a new level of toxicity. Many tourism brands bank on the publicity of the celebrities of their home countries to increase their revenue. This, inevitably, leads to an intense paparazzi and fan inducing environment, the cost of which is often paid by the celebrities. One such country which has lately bloomed in the global entertainment scenario is South Korea. The harrowing situation in Korea was brought to light after the suicide of the singer and actress, Sulli late in the year 2019.
Major celebrities have battled against the unwanted publicity against themselves and their family. The neglection of their privacy has been normalised to the extent that even the members of their family, including their minor children, have time and again become the focus of their camera for the sole reason of being associated with a famous person. For instance, in the case of suicide of primetime actor Sushant Singh Rajput, the leading suspect, Rhea Chakraborty and her family, has been hounded by the news reporters and photographers without any due regards to their privacy.
Even though the aim of these reporters is to provide exclusive and foremost news to the readers, in their zeal to provide such information they often forgo to respect the privacy of their subjects and end up violation their one of the fundamental human rights.
Balance Between Publicity And Privacy
The celebrities have their ‘publicity rights’ which they have created based on their skills, hard work, time and conscious efforts. Owing to this, they have a right to sell off their publicity and exploit commercial benefits from it. However, in the process of exploiting their image it is necessary for the reporters to realize that the subject of their lens is a human being with his inherent right to privacy. Often times, the garb of ‘public’s right to know’ has been used as a defence shield against the actions of the news reporters and consequently the privacy of the celebrated individuals has been compromised.
Owing to the nature of their work and their popular image, many people often personalize and idolize these public figures as their friends and have craved to know various aspects of their lives, both personal and professional. Since this desire of building a relationship with the figure is one-sided, it often leads to an obsession, and subsequently, stalking behaviour. This obsession is often fuelled by the personal news segments provided by the entertainment news reporters.
Psychologically, many ‘celebrity worshippers’ engage in such relationships by becoming intensely absorbed in their personal lives and usually don’t go beyond the benign relationship of having absolute knowledge of their favourite celebrity even if it involves stalking them. Fans and paparazzi often do not realize that they have been overstepping boundaries and see the celebrities as objects of entertainment rather than as living people. In India, there is no specific law governing the behaviour of people towards the celebrities and public figures. However, Section 354D of Indian Penal Code declares stalking as a crime. The section is, however, women centric in nature which limits the safety which can be guaranteed to the male public figures in the legal domain.
The press has continued to take undue advantage of the limitation of Indian legal system such as women centric laws and lack of express written laws. Even though laws have been made in various countries to ensure safety of the celebrities, no such measure has been taken in India. It is pertinent that the press must also be educated about the relevancy of privacy of the public figures and learn to respect it. Media has played a huge role in creating the interest of the public in the lives of celebrities which can turn out to be a boon or a bane for the celebrated individuals. Therefore, it is there inherent duty to ensure that in their quest of good press, the privacy of these individuals is not compromised.
The Media’s Activist Role And Its Repercussions With Respect To Privacy
In many cases involving celebrities, paparazzi has often played the role of judge, jury and executioner. ‘Media trials’ have often swayed the public sentiments in a case without any evidence. This not only causes mental trauma to the unfortunate suspects but can also lead to delaying of justice. For instance, in 2005 when the famous singer Michael Jackson was tried for a case of child molestation, the Supreme Court of US had to order to preserve the facts of the case from the public and maintain a “fog of secrecy”. This was not the first time this had been done in US. The reporters, in order to fulfill their role of activists repeatedly infringe the privacy of the suspect or his/her family.
The Right to Privacy of an individual has been considered his human right irrespective of his profession or social standing in the society. Article 12 of the UDHR protects a person’s privacy from any arbitrary attacks on their honour and reputation. The privacy extends to their homes and family as well. Since the information available with the media rarely relies on concrete evidence, the probability of causing defamation to the subjects is considerably increases. Similarly, Article 17 of ICCPR also prohibits any unlawful or arbitrary interference in an individual’s privacy and his family.
Media trials have often been criticised by the Supreme Court of India since they always do not base their allegations on evidence and end up causing injustice to the parties involved. In order to conduct their own investigations, the reporters infringe the privacy of the parties. The Indian Constitution, under Article 21, declares Right of Privacy as a fundamental right irrespective of the profession of the citizens of country. The Right to Privacy prevails over everyone alike, irrespective of their status as a public figure.
Across the globe, many countries have created legislations or committees to ensure that the Right to Privacy of these public figures is maintained by the news reporters and no harassment is faced by the subjects. For instance, in United Kingdom, the Press Complaints Commission provides a code of conduct for those who cover the celebrities, outlawing unwanted photographing, telephoning and stalking. In 2013 the California government passed a law to protect the privacy of minor children of the public figures by awarding rigid penalties to the photographers who torment the children. Many celebrities have also started stepping up against these invasive news reporters in order to protect the privacy of their kin.
All across the globe, intentionally or unintentionally, people have always taken an interest in the lives of the public figures. The glamour, fame and luxury of their lives has enticed all to keep themselves up-to-date. However, even though many a times these celebrities bank on their publicity value, it comes at a cost of the fundamental right of their privacy. Many countries have made a separate law to ensure that the privacy of the celebrities and public figures is respected without causing any hindrance to their publicity rights. A regulatory mechanism needs to be established for the news reporters to remind them of the limits and boundaries while collecting information which can prove to be sensitive and personal in nature. Having personal knowledge of the lives of the famous personalities has been normalised to an extent where these celebrities have become an integral part of our daily lives. However, it is necessary to ensure that their privacy is respected and acknowledged at all times so that the shimmer of glory does not blind us of our duties and liabilities as human beings.
Title Image source: Wikipedia
This article has been written by Kanishka Iyer. She is third year law student from Gujarat National Law University. She is a staunch believer of equity over equality and of objectivity over generality, the rights of downtrodden, especially women, have always stirred a string within her.