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This house believes that the press should be able to publish allegations about private lives without consent
This house believes that the press should be able to publish allegations about private lives without consent
Defamation is the term used to describe the action of damaging an individual's reputation or character and laws governing defamation are amongst some of the oldest laws which are still in existence today. These laws exist not only in the jurisdiction of many independent nations but also internationally via Article 17 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which a vast majority of countries have chosen to adhere to. The Article states that:
1) No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation.
2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.1
In the 21st century, in a world of mass communication with a vast variety of different mediums the issue of defamation is growing ever more salient. In the United Kingdom the recently high-profile case between the now former president of Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) Max Mosley and the now defunct News of the World newspaper brought the issue to the fore and forced the issues of the pros and cons of defamation law into the limelight. In this case the newspaper published several stories regarding Mr Mosley’s involvement in sadomasochistic sex acts involving several female prostitutes, the paper published the story without providing him with fair warning, he then subsequently claimed successfully against the newspaper for invasion of privacy in the UK High court. After this settlement he then when on to the European Court of Human Rights to try and change UK Laws so that a judge would be “...permitted to scrutinize any claims before they are made public”2, which some argue is too restrictive and would hinder the media in its role as watchdog. The issue gained even more attention in July 2011 following revelations that the News of the World hacked not only into celebrities’ phones but also those of politicians; victims of terrorism and the presumed missing, but then found dead, phone of 13 year old Milly Dowler. Should then the press be able to print allegations about people without their without prior consultation or does the person who is being reported about deserve the right to know what is going to be published before hand?
|Points For||Points Against|
|The freedom of the press idea should be upheld.||Words are powerful, making allegations about an individual's private lives which are unwarranted or false can be damaging|
|It would not be practical to involve the judiciary prior to the publication of every story||With new technologies it is more practical than ever to inform people about stories involving them prior to publication.|
|Further restrictions on an already regulated industry would hinder its ability to hold people to account.||There are plenty of issues the press can report on without infringing private lives|
|The effect of allegations on the public may not be positive.|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
The freedom of the press idea should be upheld.
The freedom of the press is protected in law throughout the world including United States where it is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is subject to defamation law but the balance is fine, moving to a more regulated system would be an attack on the ideal of a free press and all that it has achieved. The idea of a free press in a crucial lynch pin behind the concept of democracy because how can one make a truly informed decision if their information sources a forcibly limited; on the subject of press freedom Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Physician James Currie1 states that: "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." It is therefore important that the ability of the press to be truly free is not sacrificed as democracy and liberty would go with it.Improve this
The line between the freedom of the press and the right to privacy is indeed fine, however the current balance is too far in favor of the news conglomerates than it is the individual. In the same letter, previous to the proposition quote from Thomas Jefferson, the president also states that: 'I deplore...the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write them…These ordures are rapidly depraving the public taste.”1 What this demonstrates is that while the freedom of the press is important it does not mean that it should necessarily be free from all law, left unregulated the press could, like people, become corrupted by the power the have over society. The freedom of the press idea should be upheld however this should not simply mean that it is above any governance.Improve this
It would not be practical to involve the judiciary prior to the publication of every story
If the press were legally obliged to go in-front of a judge before publishing stories which may potentially contain material of a defaming nature the process of news gathering would be greatly damaged. While getting the balance between immediacy and privacy is important bringing in the judiciary to look over all written material before allowing it to be published is an entirely wrong move. As well as being a affront on freedom of speech it would also overload the courts with needless work, making the system of upholding laws inefficient and costly. Media lawyer Mark Stevens states that this idea "...would shear the media of the ability to report matters of public interest and thus look into corruption lurking in those dark corners the rich and powerful would rather were kept out of sight"1Improve this
The amount of stories which the press would have to bring to the attention of the judiciary would be a relatively small percentage of the amount total amount of stories which the press publish, and not even all stories with defamation shades in them will necessarily go to court. All a new law would do would allow all people to have the "...the right to have an editor's decision to publish reviewed by a judge before irreparable damage can be done"1 While the freedom of the press is important so equally is the right to privacy; as the media have an unequal freedom of expression it is only right to ensure that their power is kept in check to ensure that other human rights are respected and maintained and not simply disregarded due to the economic might of communication conglomerates.Improve this
Further restrictions on an already regulated industry would hinder its ability to hold people to account.
The primary role of a free press in society is to act as watchdog and hold people, governments and companies to account for their actions, as a result news media organizations have a powerful role to play in society. Due to this there is, in all western nations, some kind of regulation of the media to ensure that false or libelous claims are not unduly made. The media, under current levels of regulation, have managed to continue on in its crucial role for democracy successfully. Take for example the 2009 leak of MPs expenses in the UK that were published extensively by the Telegraph Group. Further regulation in the case of that story, in the name of controlling potential defamation, may have hindered the story coming to light and such abuses of power would have gone unchecked and continued on as normal.1 While occasionally claims can be unfairly made and lead to defamation on the whole maintaining the current light levels of regulation will ensure that the media can remain efficiently effective in its important role of making people accountable for their actions.Improve this
It is agreed that the primary role of a free press is to hold people to account and act as a watchdog, however this can still easily be done without the need of defamation. All extra laws would do would be to ensure that the ideal of many western nations that one is "innocent until proven guilty" actually remains in place. It is wrong to suggest that a story such as the 2009 expenses scandal would not have been published if new regulations were in practice because such a story with so many wide-reaching ramifications would always be allowed to be published regardless as to whether there may be a hint of defamation simply due to the high levels of public importance, new regulation would simply limit needless and entirely unfounded cases of defamation. It is also incorrect to state that current regulation is fit for purpose, take for example the current News of the World phone hacking scandal whereby numerous phones of celebrities, government ministers and victims of terrorism were illegally tapped, this is not a good display of regulation working. The problem in the UK in regards to regulation is that the press regulates itself; allowing organizations with such power to effectively regulate themselves and sometimes against their own immediate interest does not work.Improve this
Words are powerful, making allegations about an individual's private lives which are unwarranted or false can be damaging
The press can often be irresponsible with what it publishes; language is powerful and publishing details of an individual's private life can be very damaging for their careers, family lives and on some occasions their mental and physical wellbeing. With this taken into account there should be extra laws to ensure that information which is either false or not in the public interest is not published. There are many examples where people have had their private lives revealed by the media which has resulted in loss of career and other such strife; you could take for example previously mentioned Max Moseley ex-president of the FIA losing his position due to allegations into his private life being made in the News of the World. Another more recent example can be seen when congressman Anthony Weiner in 2011 was caught tweeting a sexually suggestive picture on twitter; after this act was caught reporters dived into his private life to uncover further murky details from his private life under the apparent mandate of public interest, this resulted in Weiner leaving his post and undoubtedly resulting in family issues; all so that media companies could ultimately sell their products.Improve this
Language is indeed powerful and that is why stricter defamation laws should not be implemented as it would endanger freedom of speech, in addition to this it is also more crucially one of the only tools society has of keeping those in power accountable for their actions. The opposition argument makes the suggestive assertion that delving into peoples' private lives is only going to yield revelations which do not directly affect the capability of an individual in a particular role and that it is therefore not in the public interest to know, this is not correct. People whose private lives are occasionally infringed upon all have, to one degree or another, the power to affect society, be it in an overt way via politics or economics or more subtly via changing peoples' perceptions of the world, they therefore should be considered fair game to be researched. The reason the Anthony Weiner story was in the public interest to be reported then is because he is a representative of the United States and such behavior should not be tolerated in person who is in such a role. Another example can seen in the previously mentioned "MPs expenses scandal", in the UK, where it was revealed that some MPs, whose responsibility it is to create and review laws, were breaking their own tax laws in their own private lives, this clearly demonstrates a misuse of their position and deserves to be known even if it means a slight infringement on their privacy.Improve this
With new technologies it is more practical than ever to inform people about stories involving them prior to publication.
When the first defamation laws were drafted modern communication technologies, which we take for granted today, were not in existence, it would not have been practical then to inform individuals that information about themselves was going to be published, particularly due to the time sensitive nature of news. Nowadays communication is much more instantaneous and generally ubiquitous so that now, more than any other time in history, it is completely practical to enshrine into law the obligation that the media should make contact with individuals to inform them that information which could be perceived as defaming in nature is due to be published. Media corporations should have social responsibility for what they publish and adding this caveat to current law should ensure that the balance between freedom of the press and liberty becomes much more balanced than it is at present whereby the media seems to believe that it can simply flout privacy law.Improve this
The system of regulation and law which is currently in place is more than adequate and does not need to be changed. If news organizations were forced to inform individuals about potential stories being published, rather tipping the balance more towards liberty, as the opposition states, what it would result in is making some people more equal than others. This is because those who have the capital to do so could, on hearing that something about them is due to be published, take out an injunction or super-injunction to ensure that the story never gets out, those with not a lot of money would not be able to do this. The present system of catching people out un-aware ensures a level playing field ensuring that those in power such as politicians, CEOs and celebrities to name but a few do not simply buy themselves rights which the average person cannot. Changing the law would not only weaken the role of media in society it would also make society as a whole much more unequal.Improve this
There are plenty of issues the press can report on without infringing private lives
Arguably the majority of stories which infringe defamation laws are nothing more than needless celebrity gossiping. While it is true some of the general public are interested in these stories it does not mean they are in the public interest. Media freedom is not under threat when their rights to intrude on private lives are limited.1 There is no absolute need for journalists to pry into people's private lives in search of a good story. One only has to take a look at the current economic climate or government statistics and there will always be enough information to create a factual and well informed, interesting story which the public would find interesting and useful. If the press want to get primary data for stories this can also be done without the need to invade the private lives of citizens.Improve this
While there are stories which may infringe defamation laws on the odd occasion this does not mean that all such stories are inherently breaking privacy law. The reason such stories are prevalent in the modern media landscape is simply a matter of supply and demand, newspapers wishing to provide the best supply will occasionally cross the moral or legal line as to what is accepted in regards to privacy but this is rare occurrence. All journalists tend to sign up to a code of ethics of which all examples cover privacy, take for example the Society of Professional Journalists' (SPJ) Code of Ethics1 which states that "Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone's privacy." It is also wrong to assume that the invasion of privacy is only done to gain trivial stories, there are examples in which such actions have resulted in crucial stories of public interest to surface, such as the previously mentioned expense scandal in the UK; a total ban on the media infringing privacy would greatly damage its positive contribution to society.Improve this
The effect of allegations on the public may not be positive.
Arguably the availability of uncensored and free press should be viewed wearily. It may not be in the public interest for people to be fed every allegation under the sun. If 100% of allegations were taken literally then the public could feel like they were in danger all the time. Knowing about potential concerning issues could possibly create a negative untrusting society, take for example the Joanna Yeats case in the UK. Her landlord Chris Jefferies was initially arrested but found not guilty of any crime in relation to her death, however while under-arrest many newspapers published libelous stories about him suggesting, for example, that he was stalker and obsessed with death. These allegations were untrue and are not helpful to society resulting in payouts to Mr. Jefferies.1Improve this
People should not be considered stupid, it should be assumed that the majority of readers have the capability of analyzing news stories and that they are be able to distinguish between artistic use of language, used make a text interesting, and what is actually hard fact within the article. While newspapers, and the press more generally, most certainly do have power to shape society, on the whole they aim to simply reflect it. Having a restricted over-regulated press is arguably more dangerous than a free one as it could create a false reality and a deluded society as a result.Improve this
Davis, N. (2009) Flat Earth News: an award winning reporter exposes falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media. Vintage: London
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