Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Privacy vs. The Public Interest

What does ‘in the public interest’ even mean?

And what about ‘privacy’?

Journalists too often come under fire for publishing questionable material relating to these to terms. But do we even know what they mean? And if we do, can we tell the difference between what is alright to report on and what is not?

Kieran (1997) points out “the notion of the private delineates a sphere within which we are free to be intimate with others and pursue goals and interests we have without being subject to the public gaze” (cited in Tapsall & Varley, 2008). So, when we think of privacy we think intrusion, embarrassing private facts, and publication of false information or exploitation of someone’s name or personal information without that person’s permission. Most people will acknowledge these common understandings of privacy. So, why is there such an issue with this in the media?

Mainly because there is very little legislation for journalists to protect private matters. There are too many exemptions and loopholes for the media in current legislation, which means the media are perhaps less concerned and less aware of this issue. Even the MEAA’s Code of Ethics, has nothing binding for journalists to adhere to these practices.

But, if we take our role seriously as journalists and as the 'fourth estate', don't we have the responsibility to the public to produce credible news, which we can justify as being 'in the public interest'? We have a priveleged position in society to inform the public, but we must not take this for granted simply for interesting gossip or titilation.

The main point it: the public interest, and what the public is interested in are two different things. We need to recognise this and consider the ramifications before publishing anything questionable in the eye of the public.


Research Journalism. 2010. MEAA Code of Ethics, accessed 10th September 2010,

 Tapsall, S. & Varley, C. 2008. 'Public Interest, Private Lives', Journalism: Theory in Practice, chap. 12, Oxford University Press: Victoria. 


  1. You mentioned the MEAA Code of Ethics and I think this is the first time, even in class, that I've considered their role in this. Perhaps, journalists should have a far more binding agreement to follow, which may help regulate such invasions of privacy. Doubt it'll happen, though...

  2. I agree Ben. The MEAA's Code of Ethics is in no way a binding agreement. While it may appear there's a need for more regulation and perhaps a clear cut privacy law, perhaps this may hinder the work of journalists even further, especially when considering privacy in terms of politicians and celebrities and those choosing and making a name for themselves "in the public eye".