Public Figures , Private Lives?

Public Figures,

Why is it that the moment a headline reads of a relationship of a famous actress, or a politician, it immediately draws our attention?

The general public has for generations maintained a keen interest in celebrities and public figures beyond their professional sphere of working. From their day-to-day habits to the most intimate details of their amorous involvements, the press never falters in covering and printing such information, and the public never fails to receive it in earnest. It is interesting to note people would not show the same interest about any ordinary person, and typically public figures gain this degree of attention. Why is it so, and is it justified in the first place?

The first step would be to clearly identify what constitutes a public figure. Any person who has considerable popularity amongst the general public, in a particular arena of skill or expertise, generally, but not always limited to the professional sphere, can be a loosely defined as a public figure. The first thing that comes to mind is public figures come into the limelight knowingly forsaking at least a portion of their privacy. A public figure cannot enjoy the same privacy as an ordinary person. One way to tackle an issue like this would be to assert public figures deserve no privacy at all. This sort of assertion is backed by two assumptions- firstly, that all public figures are voluntarily in the limelight, and second, if they receive positive recognition and fame, they should be alright with receiving infamy by virtue of their popularity. However, this is a flimsy argument to run simply because while most public figures do step in by will, there are definite exceptions, more common than one would think. For instance, consider a famous actor’s son or daughter. They are pubic figures by extension and not by will. They have not willfully agreed to be a public figure, but have become so by virtue of circumstances. In such a case, dragging their personal lives into the limelight is definitely questionable. Secondly, even if a person does willfully become a public figure, does it mean they should silently accept every negative exposure simply because they are famous and receive positive responses?

It becomes particularly nonsensical because the principle of ‘the good comes with the bad’ does not work as a sound logical argument- it would be like saying a sportsman who plays a sport that shows him in a good light cannot complain if he is forced to play a sport that shows him in a negative light.

Evidently, the idea that public figures deserve no privacy falls because of both the assumptions it bases itself on. The question then becomes, how far can a public figure forsake his privacy, and where must the line be drawn? One must realize consent becomes of prime importance when contesting privacy. A very basic ground rule would be as long as a public figure willfully discloses a particular private information, it is subject to public scrutiny– if a politician confesses his involvements with a woman, then he should be prepared to receive responses from the public, because he has full autonomy in releasing this information.

However, when it comes to private information that the press acquires clandestinely, without the knowledge of the public figure, and publishes it, it becomes problematic. But consider this- what if it is a footage of a politician involved intimately with a minor? Or if it is an account of an actor gaining a film through unfair means? In both these cases, the private affairs of the public figure have a considerable impact on their public roles. The public deserves to know if a politician, a man upholding state order, is himself violating state laws; and if an actor has acquired roles in films through not his acting skills but other unfair means. Publishing of such private information by the press without consent of the public figure involved is justified, because in these cases the information has larger ramifications on the very basis of their public acclamation- their roles. An actor is known for his acting skills, and if a particular private inlet proves otherwise, the public does bear a right to know. It must be understood that clandestine acquisition and publication of other private information that in no way has any significance to their public roles, is most definitely out of the line. If a politician is intimately involved with a woman, and is doing so within legal bounds, he should not be ripped of this privacy. If an actor is in a relationship that in no way is illegal or questionable for his role as an actor, he has every right to prevent it from reaching the public forum. We must understand that while public figures have lesser privacy than do ordinary people, their publicness must be limited to consensual disclosure, and disclosure without knowledge only if it has larger ramifications on their roles as public figures– the very ground they gained publicity for.

-Contributed by Tinka Dubey

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