Celebrity journalism: An invasion of privacy or a public right?

Kate Middleton topless, Britney’s public meltdown, Michael Jackson’s baby dangling… these images, while we may not morally agree with them, we have all seen and read about. We have gossiped about them with our friends, family and possibly work colleagues.

The notion of following somebody around, taking pictures, shouting at them and then writing up the most intimate moments of their life for everyone to read is one that would surely baffle the extra-terrestrials which will no doubt one day come here to take over. But nevertheless, it is something which captures everyone’s attention.

Image from Pexels. No attribution required.

The laws and regulations set in place for the protection of journalists and celebrities alike differ depending on your location, but is celebrity journalism, an invasion of privacy, or a public sphere right which is overshadowed by the glitz and drama of Hollywood’s finest?

In this blog post, I am going to be discussing some of the legal challenges which face journalists in the world of celebrity journalism, and the dangerous waters they tread in the pursuit of the most scandalous stories.

Libel: The timeless comeback from angry celebs to major outlets

Journalists are not known for having much fear, but one thing that may make them quake in their boots is an infamous word that begins with S and ends in D.

If there is one thing celebrities are good at, it’s suing. And with all that money — why wouldn’t you?!

Are law meetings really this civilised? (Image from Pexels. No Attribution required.)

In case you’re unsure, the official definition from Collins Dictionary of Libel is:

“Libel is a written statement which wrongly accuses someone of something, and which is therefore against the law.”

The key part we want to look at here is WRITTEN.

This is why journalists around the globe have to be careful what they write about. Writing about untrue or things with a lack of evidence could end them up with a big, fat appointment with the company’s lawyers.

When it comes to celebrities, journalists do not only have to worry about what they write, but also what they don’t write. Innuendo can be just as dangerous as outright telling the public X is cheating on his wife with Y.

Not to mention making rookie errors such as mistaking someone’s identity. Journalists have to be careful of what they put in headlines, captions, pictures and videos.

And you thought writing about celebrities was easy, huh?

Before you get carried away in a Law & Order meets The Good Wife representation of a celebrity walking into a lawyer’s office and demanding the suing of major written outlets, let’s discuss a few defences those poor, little journalists have against the big, bad celebrities.

DEFENCES

Consent

This one is kinda self-explanatory. Its defence is basically saying, “You said it was fine to publish this before we published it”. Which makes sense, considering. People change their minds about what they want out in the public arena, but to jump from agreeing for an article to be publishing to SUING somebody? Seems like a jump, but one I’m sure has happened before.

Image from Pexels. No Attribution Required.

Justification

This one may be a little confusing in its ambiguity. When a defence is a justification one, it is about justifying that what was published about the subject of the story was factually true- NOT that is it morally just to publish what they did.

The facts must be true, and not of opinion. (I’m not that smart, but you can read in more depth about it here!)

Absolute privilege

To put it in layman's terms, it’s basically where one’s expectation of their right to privacy is outweighed by the public’s right to know. It is more important for people to know, then it is to protect the reputation of the subject of the story.

It, again, is not as simple as that (isn’t law fun?!), there first must be three things proven to be true:

“The report must be:

· Fair

· Accurate,

· And contemporaneous

These are just a few examples of the way those sneaky journalists can get away with writing just about anything, or anyone.

Whilst not an official defence, what may come as surprise to you, is the risk at which journalists will take things. As stated (again by someone much more clever than me), by two men called Mike Dodd and Mark Hanna that journalists may publish something on the off-chance the celebrity will not sue because it may damage their reputation further! Clever, right?

There is a thin line between privacy and the right to know when it comes to celebrity journalism, one which I salute those who dare venture into those murky waters.

I hope this has been a somewhat informative and easy way to get any readers law behind the treacherous roads that is celebrity journalism.

And until next time,

Rachel

Full-time BU student, part-time daydreamer | I write about things to do with journalism and celebrities | Twitter: @RachelAziz_News

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