The media is quite a powerful entity which in the recent times has been viewed with skepticism and also suspicion depending on the context. The media has a right to provide information even on individuals but questions have been raised on how far they can go when it comes to invasion of privacy. On the other hand, in some nations such as Egypt, the media has provided a much needed tool for expression with insights from different parts of the world. This is important given the years of a repressive that the Egyptian people have had to endure. In the recent uprising against the former president Hosni Mubarak, the social media provided a means for rallying the masses and keeping the fight for freedom going.
The media is therefore at times referred to as the fourth estate, a term that denotes its influence in society which can be equaled to the role of the three arms of the government. It plays a critical role in revealing details that would otherwise have remained private to the public.
Scandals have been uncovered through the efforts of the media to make bearers of public office such as ministers, presidents and the presidents of large privately owned or stat owned corporations.
They also cover the lives of famous personalities such as musicians and actors hence allowing the public to get a closer look at the lives of the famous people’s lives. This has been detrimental to some extent to the lives of some of the celebrities leading to nervous breakdowns for some of them as they have each and every little detail of their live tracked by the media. For the holders of public office, the media has been a kind of stage where they are crucified for their private mistakes that sometimes cannot be said directly related to their work as in the case Bill Clinton.
The role and effect of the media
The media has a strong influence on society. It has the ability to sway public opinion regarding an issue. The media which includes both print and visual media covers a wide range of content that ranges from political to social in nature. It presents the public an opportunity to view details that would otherwise have remained hidden such as political alliances in the making, impending mergers in the business world, news about celebrities and the like. This influences the readers or viewers to hold a particular view regarding an issue.
The media is a tool for education of the masses. Through features on different subjects such as health, education, politics, business and the like, the media is a conveyor of important information to the public. For the younger population that is still in schools, some radio stations and even television stations have content that is suitable for them and goes a long way in aiding them in the development of their reading skills and improving their language abilities.
The Department of Journalism and Mass Communication (DJMC) at Yarmulke University in Jordan implemented a massive educational campaign through the media from 1986 to 1992. The program was funded by both UNESCO and the United Nation Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) and it sought the rural community of Jordan on family planning. Field research subsequently showed that communication does play a vital role in the education of the general public on the sensitive issue of family planning and in modifying related attitudes and practices.
People’s attitudes can be changed through mass media. The media offers the public an opportunity to see their current attitudes and their effects in action and embrace better attitudes in case the current ones are doing more harm than good for them. For instance, in several nations there is widespread ignorance regarding diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
The media is and has been a tool for passing the right information about how the disease is spread, ways of managing it and the advances that have been made so far in an attempt to find a cure for it. It has also been responsible for pointing out the unique cultural practices in different parts of the world that promote the spread of the disease hence triggering a closer examination of such practices and the eventual abandonment of such practices. The same can also be said about other diseases such as polio and leprosy.
The media has enhanced the creation of a global village. Through social media tools like Face book, people in two different continents can easily share information within few minutes. They are also able to keep track of the development in their respective continents. Events such as football matches, cricket matches, natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes can easily be covered by different television stations and covered live across the world. This enables people from various parts of the world to share information.
The media promotes the distribution of goods and is therefore used by companies as a means of reaching their customers. It is vital in the advertisement of goods thus ensuring that businesses continue to make profits via the sale of their goods and that they have a good relationship with their customers. It also ensures that the consumers have the latest information about new products in the market.
The media also provides a sense of nationalism. For instance in Pakistan, the media has made a major contribution in helping to define the people, their leaders and their nation. By offering its perspectives, the press gives the public important lessons from the Palestinian past and articulates the vision of the Palestinian future. Thus the press is an instrument of Palestinian nationalism. For small countries like Qatar, the media has been used as a vital tool in enhancing a sense of national pride and drumming up support and the goodwill of the government from the public.
Privacy and human dignity
The right of individuals to privacy is well recognized by the laws of several countries. It is protected by the law but media coverage of the lives of all details of the lives of individuals can at times seem to interfere with this right. Privacy is simply defined as insulation from observation by the rest of the world, a value that is strongly asserted by individuals against the demands of society that can be termed as intrusive and curious. It is a value that is intimately associated with an in- built human desire to be independent agent of morals who is capable of making their own choices and self reflection. The violation of privacy is regarded as an attack to an individuals’ personal dignity.
The right to free expression and free media which is augmented and strengthened by the concept of the public’s right to have access to information does not trample upon the freedom to invade the privacy of an individual without proper justification. The media are expected to bear a level of social responsibility standards in order to still be deemed as credible in the public eyes and preserve the dignity of the individuals.
The freedom of expression is not a license to the media to do unjustifiable harm to those they have an opportunity to do stories about. At any one time, it must be recognized that every human being has a frail state of mind and emotions that should be manipulated. It is for this reason that one of the four key principles of Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, is to do minimal harm.
This code clearly states, “Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.” The Code goes on to instruct the journalists to be compassionate towards those who may be affected adversely by news coverage maintaining that the sourcing for news should not be regarded as license for arrogance for other people’s emotions and dignity.
Privacy and dignity encompasses privacy precisely in the aspects of social life that are shared and mutual. Invasion of privacy injures individuals because of our socialization as human beings to experience certain norms as vital prerequisites of one’s own identity and self-respect. However, perusals through today’s newspapers, particularly the tabloids, many details that touch very private aspects of other peoples’ lives are covered.
The media has strongly been linked to entertainment. Therefore the media at large and the sensational media in particular, have a strongly prefer to intrude for on private matters as compared to providing an analysis of social, cultural, political and scientific matters. The general public is often treated to sleazy gossip and a tendency to popularize the news. The tabloids around the globe have a specialty in incidents that are clearly an intrusion on privacy of the individuals mentioned.
In the present times, world the leaders of democracies and celebrities are continuously watched and even worse they are hounded. Political leaders and public figures live in a media bubble where each and every move they make is the subject of media coverage which at times blows the issue at hand out of proportion. Their faces are almost never missing in their news, and their private lives can be constantly exposed to the spotlight of publicity that is unwarranted. At times, their families, spouses and children, who are not directly involved with what they do in the public opinion become media personalities. This unwarranted coverage presents a challenge to the families since they are unable to go about their lives as normal individuals who are entitled to some much needed private space. They are robbed of the joy of enjoying the public space without being monitored or tracked with every step they make.
Privacy of children is accorded by far more respect by the media than the privacy of adults. In certain countries such as Israel, the gossip columns have adopted some ethical standards in reporting about celebrities and public figures. There are hardly any reports about their children of the public figures and celebrities since they believe that the children should be protected from the publicity since children are more vulnerable as compared. The media plays a vital role in the protection of the rights of children since they highlight cases of abuse, child labor and other forms of maltreatment towards children.
The invasion of privacy by reality programs and gossip programs
With the advances that have made technologically, it has become possible to have live streaming of events on television and radio. This advancement has created the latest craze on television; reality shows. These shows are based on the ordinary lives of people and revolve around different subjects such as weddings, dating, family life and the like. Reality shows are an avenue for otherwise ordinary people to become celebrities. The insatiable need of the media houses to be the pioneers in their content has led to crossing of boundaries that were previously observed. In shows such as The Big Brother, there is live coverage of scenes from bathrooms and bedrooms which would ordinarily be considered private.
The need to keep tabs on the latest news by the public has created stiff competition among the media houses. This has been marked by the advent of gossip columns or tabloids that are solely dedicated to giving the sleazy details on the lives of musicians, artistes and public figures.
The content of the gossip column is mostly personal such as marriage details, health problems, inner financial dealings of companies and the like. For the individuals affected, this may have dire consequences. A marriage may end in divorce because of revelations made in the media about either of the parties or a company can collapse if disclosures made public taint its image.
Laws on privacy
There are several articles of legislation that protect the privacy of individuals. For instance in Israel Section 7 of The Basic Law is known as Human Dignity and Freedom Act (1992). The law states that all persons are entitled to privacy and to intimacy. It goes on to state that shall entry into the private premises of a person who has not given his or her permission to the media personnel is strictly prohibited. It outlaws any searches from being conducted on the private premises of an individual, their bodies or their personal effects. It also protective of private family conversation hence it categorically states that the violation of the confidentiality of conversation, or of the writings or records of a person is prohibited. There are several modifications that have been made to this law and other laws in order to protect people’s right to privacy.
Famous people have the right to their own privacy thus the extent of coverage they get in the media should be respect their privacy. They are entitled to their dignity in as much as they entitled to share information about their lives. It is expected that by virtue of them being in the public domain, their lives lose some sense of normalcy hence everything they do is a matter that sparks public interest. The invasion of the media can be seen in several incidents over previous years. The most notable of these incidents include: Princess Diana’s death, Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, Kate Middleton’s marriage to Prince William and most recently Michael Jackson. All these public figures have had to contend with serious invasion of their privacy over details of their lives that were better off kept from the public eye.
Princess Diana death through a car crash has been linked to the constant trail of the paparazzi that was always stalking her in order to get the next juicy story of her life. Princess Diana who was a larger than life public figure well known because of her charity work and her failed marriage to Prince Charles. She was later seen in public with tycoon Dodi- al Fayed who was with her at the time of her car crash. Even in her death, Princess Diana attracted just as much attention as she had in life if not more. There was widespread speculation as to what could have led to her death which became the subject of several tabloids, gossip columns and talk shows. Each of these sections of the media offered their own theory into what might happen albeit with alterations that did not have a proper basis. This was particularly detrimental to Princess Diana’s two sons; Prince Harry and William were very young at the time of their mother’s death.
The media received criticism for what was termed as insensitivity hence after the burial of Princess Diana there was a limit set on the extent of media coverage that Prince William and Prince Harry received. The Press Complaints Committee of Britain was at the forefront of the appeal to protect the young princes from the media; an appeal that was headed by several major papers including The Mirror, The Independent and The Sun. They only published photos of Prince William and Prince Harry that had been released by the palace and resisted the urge to take photographs of the boys who attended school in Eton that is a relatively open place.
For Bill Clinton, the media was a stage upon which his marital life was hang sundry for all to see. This was a result of the revelation of his extra marital affair with Monica Lewinsky. The period between 1998 and 1999 was tumultuous period for Bill and Hillary Clinton as every detail of their lives served as fodder for the media to further cast them in bad light. Bill Clinton went on to become the second American President to face impeachment courtesy of the constant shadow of doubt that was cast about his character. At the end of the tumultuous Bill and Hilary Clinton emerged with their marriage intact although the toll of the intrusion of the privacy and loss of their dignity was evident.
The latest marriage of Prince William to his long time girlfriend Kate Midleton was another litmus test for the media to determine if they would respect the couple’s wishes for privacy. To some extent some of the media houses passed the test with most of them relying on the official communication from the palace regarding their much anticipated weddings. However there was still news on the couple in the tabloids. For instance when the couple ran into relationship troubles at some point before their marriage, the media gave quite a biased perspective of the whole issue that seemed to blow everything out of proportion. Prince William and Kate Midleton had to keep their honeymoon a secret n order to have sometime in private away from the prying eyes of the media.
Michael Jackson was one of the greatest artistes of this century. He was in the limelight all his life since the age of five when his father introduced him and his four siblings to music. They were known as the Jackson Five and they were famous for their greatly arranged records that would later traverse all times. This early exposure to the limelight was later to blame for the dysfunction that marked the life of Michael Jackson. He would later admit to the public that he missed his childhood which he was denied at the expense of fame.
His whole life was marked by the constant coverage of his life’s details by the media. He was the man to watch out for on various stories such as failed marriages, child endangerment, battles with body image that led him to undergo over 12 surgeries to alter his image and the like. His dislike for his complexion also led him to go through plastic surgery to alter his appearance. This was fodder for the media that sought to feed the insatiable need of the public to follow details of this larger than life public figure that always seemed to be biting more than he could handle.
In more recent times, the media’s intrusion of privacy has led to the closure of a major media houses. The News of the World was recently shut down after 168 years of operation. This was following revelations that shocked the public. The News of the World had obtained vital information on some of the stories they covered by hacking into the phone records that are regarded as private and confidential. This was a serious breach of what the laws state on privacy thus there were several inquests that were began proceedings to look into the conduct of the News of the World.
What was more startling about the revelation was that the news of the extent of intrusion was that it affected Prime Minister Gordon Brown. His son had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis which the family was struggling to come to terms with. The News of the World which for years had been Britain’s most widely read newspapers breached the family’s right to deal with the revelation of their child’s disease.
It is very important for the media to use their freedom of expression cautiously. They have in their hands one of the most powerful tools of influence thus their role goes beyond education, entertainment and advertisement and spills over to shaping the culture and the perceptions of a given society.
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