Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Privacy in the Media - Where Can the Line be Drawn?

Kayla Burke

Celebrities and The Media

     Celebrities are constantly on display when it comes to the media. Whether paparazzi are photographing someone who is out on a date with a “new fling” or trying to sneak photographs of someone who is trying to get married, it seems there is always some breaking exclusive plastered across so many different websites and social media platforms. Sometimes, this publicity is nothing more than someone buying groceries, but other times it can be as involved as the personal details of someone’s messy divorce, or even the details of an untimely death.

Embellishing Stories to Attract Readers

     When reading about ethics in the media, one thing that stands out is how as journalists you are supposed to report the facts, and do your best to stray away from bringing too much bias or opinion into your news story, even though this can be difficult depending on what you are covering. When it comes to celebrities, it seems that the media outlets writing about whichever story is most popular that day are fighting to see who can embellish the story the most. One tabloid might say that a couple is getting divorced, while another may claim to have “sordid details on an affair!”.

How the Media's View can Affect Other’s Opinions

     One situation that stood out to me recently was the media coverage when Robin Williams passed away, and the evident stigma that surfaced over mental illness. I suffer from depression and anxiety myself, and seeing some of the coverage of Robin William’s death be stigmatized in such a negative way, it almost made me afraid to be open about my own struggles. What if the people I knew reacted in much the same way, telling me it was “all in my head” or that I needed to “just get over it”?

     So much of the coverage after Robin Williams death was so negatively displayed because many people spoke about how it was “the coward’s way out”. Another reporter had mentioned that Robin Williams had “demons”. Rather than try to convey the message that Williams had suffered from documented medical and mental health issues, it was more about bashing his decisions.

Privacy and Anonymity – Should they be respected?

     One news outlet even went so far as to publish a photo of Williams from a supposed AA meeting. The whole point of AA – Alcoholics Anonymous – is anonymity. Where can we draw the line when not even a celebrity can attend an AA meeting without having his actions put on display for everyone to see? Just because someone is a famous actor or musician does not mean that their actions and personal lives are any more important than regular people. Celebrities do agree somewhat to subject themselves to the public eye with the career that they’ve chosen, but this shouldn’t mean that every detail of their life gets scrutinized.  

Aerial footage of William's home displayed on the same page where his family has asked for privacy. Source: 
     While it is hard to report the news, and especially emotional stories like this, without letting some kind of emotion slip in, all reporters should do their best to respect the privacy of these individuals. A good way to measure this would be to ask yourself, “If this was a family member, or myself, how would I want this story portrayed to everyone?”. I hope that in the future, more journalists are able to report the news with the facts rather than trying to dig out whatever personal information that can make their story “better”, no matter what the cost is to the individual being reported on.

1 comment:

  1. Privacy for anyone is just a veil. People have decided to share more and more of their lives on social media, the average journalist feels anything is fair game to share (or re-share). When celebrities are seen as someone that should expect their lives to be an open book because they chose to be in such a public field, you can be sure their “news” will be shared faster and without validation. Our lives have been sped up so fast because our need for instant gratification. We are almost to blame for this vicious cycle, aren’t the journalist only satisfying our demand for stories faster and more personal information about people we admire?
    What’s more disturbing is our complaints that those delivering the news aren’t discerning our privacy to our liking. We are contradicting ourselves when we expect respect on one side and want all the story on the other. We need to end the need to have them define our privacy. We also need to stop expecting to hear every small detail about everyone. We have to stop the demand to control the supply of information.
    Don’t give other people the power to define your privacy. Take control of what you share, take control of your digital footprint and define how you are seen by others before someone defines it for you. Don’t compare yourself with the celebrity you see presented by the press either. We truly do not have the actual picture of the real person…and we shouldn’t. Everyone deserves a speck of privacy in their life, no matter what their career and passion.
    Great post with a lot of heart, continue to develop that sense of responsibility in sharing someone’s struggles. Empathy is a great characteristic to have when dealing with people.

    - Tracy Brewer