Millennium Post

Private lives of public persons

It is entirely regrettable that a taskforce under the National Security Council Secretariat has recommended that the government should consider enacting a law to ensure that the media is not allowed to intrude into the private lives of people holding public positions. It is a little surprising that such a taskforce has made this kind of a recommendation, for the laws relating to privacy are completely outside its ambit, which is limited to issues of national security, that is to say, to national defence. It is unfortunate when members of the bureaucratic establishment begin to curry favours with their political masters by suggesting laws, however unfeasible and undemocratic, just to please them. There is no argument that justifies any special protection for the privacy of people occupying public positions, particularly in democratic countries where all are considered equal. Such public figures wield an inordinate amount of power in society and are in a position to shape it. These people have to be held accountable for their actions and it is only through media scrutiny that this can be achieved. The large amount of interest that the general public has in these people is entirely legitimate. It is completely in the public interest to expose the private lives of public figures if these conflict with their public personas because this has a bearing on public policy that these people are in a position to affect. If, for instance, the public posture of a public figure is that of sympathy towards women’s issues but in private life he has a history of violence towards women or has been accused of rape, these are facts that should be known to the public, because they have a bearing on this person’s capacity to hold a public post. 

There is also no clear dividing line between public and private behaviour and rules or a privacy law arbitrarily drawn up will only prevent corrupt, dubious or dishonest behaviour from being exposed. Thus, when a president takes several children or relatives  at government expense on a foreign trip, in violation of rules, this cannot be hidden away as a fact of private life. Political scandals only highlight the need to scrutinise the behaviour of public figures more closely. It is widely accepted that even the protections available to ordinary citizens with  regard to privacy are not applicable to public figures provided it is in the public interest to expose them. There is simply no case for any special law to protect the privacy of those who hold public positions. Those who have suggested it deserve to be castigated. 
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