media, privacy and public
This page considers the shape of privacy in the 'infotainment
economy', considering questions about media spectacles,
self-regulation, 'community notification' regarding offenders
It covers -
- some questions about media, government, community
and the individual
culture of spectacle - are
celebrities and the stigmatised fair game?
- consumers, government and self-regulation by the fourth
estate in the networked economy
of publicity and personality -
- principle and practice in self-disclosure and forced
registers - questions about online crime registers,
disagreement about spent convictions and 'Megans Law'
Most privacy regimes make particular provision for journalism,
typically on grounds of free speech or a community 'right
to know'. In practice there is substantial self-regulation,
for media proprietors ("freedom from the
press belongs to those who own a press")
acceptance, even encouragement, of activities that breach
the privacy of celebrities ("no privacy is the
price you pay for fame") or stigmatised groups
that stronger privacy law and practice will restrict
that journalists and media organisations will adhere
to professional codes and act responsibly
Australian regulation see Mark Armstrong's Communications
Law (Melbourne: Oxford Uni Press 1999).
The Australian Press Council's Privacy Standards statement
notes that the 2001 federal legislation
an exemption for acts done or practices engaged in by
a media organisation in the course of journalism, if
the media organisation is publicly committed to observing
standards that deal with privacy in the context of the
activities of a media organisation, and those standards
have been published in writing either by the organisation
or a body representing a class of media organisations.
gathering news, journalists should seek personal information
only in the public interest.
In doing so, journalists should not unduly intrude on
the privacy of individuals and should show respect for
the dignity and sensitivity of people encountered in
the course of gathering news ...
Public figures necessarily sacrifice their right to
privacy, where public scrutiny is in the public interest.
However, public figures do not forfeit their right to
privacy altogether. Intrusion into their right to privacy
must be related to their public duties or activities
the media organisation should provide a reasonable and
swift opportunity for a balancing response in the appropriate
section of the publication.
A media organisation should make amends for publishing
any personal information that is found to be harmfully
have responded that in practice such aspirational statements
are regarded with a shrug or a wink. In 2005 the Australian
Communications & Media Authority (ACMA) released its Privacy
Guidelines for Broadcasters (PDF),
offering broad and selective guidance for commercial broadcasters
and for the public sector broadcasters.
For New Zealand see Media Law in New Zealand (Auckland:
Oxford Uni Press 1999) by John Brown & Ursula Cheer.
Insights into the UK regime are provided by Joshua Rozenberg's
Privacy and the Press (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press
rights of publicity and personality?
for a 'right of publicity'
or 'right of personality' are situated at the intersection
of intellectual property and privacy.
Some sense of complexities is provided by considering
outing, an essentially political practice involving involuntary
public disclosure of sexual preferences or relationships
in environments where particular activities may be illegal
(as in Tasmania until last decade) or deeply stigmatised.
Critics of outing characterise the practice as both a
fundamental breach of privacy and an attack on the good
manners that form the basis of civil society. They argue
that an individual's private life is his/her own, noting
continuities with the past in which police, blackmailers,
salacious journalists or rivals 'exposed' an individual's
shameful or illegal behaviour.
Proponents, in contrast, argue that outing is a mechanism
for personal and community liberation, with exemplary
individuals such as politicians, judges, sportspeople
and business leaders having an obligation to come out
of the closet and thereby erode perceptions that GLBT
people are 'inferior' or that heterosexual relationships
are the 'default orientation'.
Opening the closets by 'naming and claiming' has thus
been characterised as a foundation for building a successful
civil rights movement: as GLBT preferences are not shameful
revealing those preferences simply indicates an unremarkable
part of the individual's life, a part in common with much
of the population.
Activist Michaelangelo Signorile commented that
people have been outed for decades. People have always
outed the mailman and the milkman and the spinster who
lives down the block. If anything, the goal behind outing
is to show just how many gay people there are among
the most visible people in our society so that when
someone outs the milkman or the spinster, everyone will
say, "So what?"
somewhat disingenuously responded to criticism of outing
as a breach of privacy by asking
can being gay be private when being straight isn't?
Sex is private. But by outing we do not discuss anyone's
sex life. We only say they're gay.
have also noted the hypocrisy of some religious and political
groups. In the US during 2006, for example, Republican
congressman Mark Foley and the Reverend Ted Haggard (president
of the gay-hostile National Association of Evangelicals)
Salient works are Contested Closets: the Politics
and Ethics of Outing (Minneapolis: Uni of Minnesota
Press 1993) by Larry Gross, Gay Ideas: Outing and
Other Controversies (Boston: Beacon 1992) by Richard
Mohr, Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics
and the University (New York: Routledge 1992) by
John d'Emilio, The Homosexualization of America
(New York: St Martin's 1982) by Denis Altman, Out
of the Closets (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall 1972)
by Laud Humphreys, Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy
of Silence (New York: Haworth 1994) by Warren Johansson
& William Percy, Queer in America: Sex, the Media,
& the Closets of Power (New York: Random 1993)
by Michelangelo Signorile and Coming Out: Homosexual
Politics in Britain From the Nineteenth Century to the
Present (London: Quartet 1990) edited by Jeffrey
For historical and contemporary perspectives on discrimination
see Homophobia by Byron Fone, Homophobia:
How we all pay the price (Boston: Beacon 1992) edited
by William Blumenfeld, Straight jobs, gay lives: Gay
& Lesbian Professionals, the Harvard Business School
& the American Workplace (New York: Scribner
1995) by Annette Friskopp & Sharon Silverstein. For
stigmatisation and recognition in the media see works
such as The Celluloid Closet (New York: Harper
& Row 1981) by Vince Russo, The Making of the
Modern Homosexual (London: Hutchinson 1981) edited
by Kenneth Plummer and other studies highlighted in the
discussion of film censorship
Questions about the shape, history and effectiveness of
'community notification' offender registers are explored
in a supplementary note elsewhere
on this site.
The sobering 2001 paper 'The War on Sex Offenders: Community
Notification in Perspective' by L Hinds & K Daly in
The Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology
notification' is based on the deceptively simple belief
that if you could identify all the "bad" people,
you could protect your loved ones from harm
notion has resulted in a range of legislation - often
tagged as 'Megan's Laws', after the US propotype - that
allows community access to offender registers maintained
by law enforcement or other agencies. Those registers
typically centre on sex offences and are underpinned by
requirements that the offender notify the agency of movements
(eg a change of residential address or intention to travel
The notion has also resulted in a range of private print/online
publications, sometimes on a clearly commercial basis,
that draw on media reports of offences. Such reporting
and the resultant publications may not be accurate.
Community and media responses have varied. A vehement
'name and shame' campaign by UK tabloid the News of
the World appears to fomented hysteria that saw
vandalism, death threats and assault on actual or supposed
offenders. One utterly respectable paediatrician was thus
driven out of town after 'concerned citizens' failed to
differentiate between paediatrics and paedophilia.
There has been surprisingly little detailed research about
community attitudes to 'criminal history' information,
online publication and privacy. One major study is the
2001 Public Attitudes toward Uses of Criminal History
Information report (PDF)
from the US National Consortium for Justice Information
& Statistics (NCJIS).
That report concludes that although there is substantial
support for public availability of particular categories
of records where there is a perceived public benefit/safety
rationale, there is significantly lower support for more
'private' uses. In general, respondents favour access
by employers and government agencies but do no support
access to arrest-only (or arrest without conviction) records.
The findings are consistent with a range of studies about
US consumer attitudes to privacy.
report suggests that, when not fretting about whether
Elvis was rubbed out by the FBI or abducted by aliens
in search of credit data, most US citizens view criminal
history records as confidential information and favor
some restriction in access. Surprisingly, given taditionally
high levels of distrust of government, most of Westin's
respondents are more wary of business misuse.
47% supposedly prefer a "partially open system" in which
only conviction records are freely available. 37% support
a restricted system, where only selected users have access.
12% favour a wholly open system in which arrest and conviction
records are freely available. 90% preferred State agencies
not to web-publish criminal history information that is
already a matter of public record, for example that has
appeared in newspapers.
support some access to conviction records by nongovernment
entities for noncommercial purposes. Nine out of ten would
allow restricted access to conviction records by potential
employers, with 55% indicating that access should be tied
to the nature of the position, such as handling money
or dealing with children. A majority endorsed at least
some access by organisations that work with children (88%),
by the defence forces (82%) and insurance companies investigating
fraud (76%), although there is markedly lower support
for banks (32%) and credit card providers (21%).
next page (business)