Invasion of privacy right by visual media and need for its regulation

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Written By: Khushi Gupta

Invasion of privacy right by visual media

Background of privacy intrusion by media

Think of the word ‘privacy’ and say do you find it being related closer to right or privilege? If you choose the latter, it is because we, as Indians, have grown in a society that has systematically desensitized privacy as a right. This intrusion begins with the normalization of spying culture in random neighborhoods, the comforting idea of judging someone else’s lives by keeping a close eye on their daily actions has unfortunately seeped into the professional business of media as well.

The mild urge to gossip has taken the shape of an obsession that demands the content of the media to be as intrusive as possible. The media also did not shy away from getting the public what they wanted. The views make money, and the more people engage in this strangulation of privacy the more media gains validation of its work.

Ignorance of privacy as a right

A country of almost 8 billion people and a few voices here and there do spring up against the public execution of a constitutional right, but they are also stampeded down under the giant need of entertainment that can only come from jumping into the lives of another. Some People are never made aware that Article 21, widely remembered as the Right to life article, also devotes a few words to another right just as important, the right to privacy. Others, however, do not care enough to criticize, I honestly don’t know what’s scarier, their ignorance or their desensitivity.

From television news networks to 60seconds news videos on social media, even news in the form of memes travels widely. Half-truths and personal information, especially of celebrities, become topics of discussion for days, leaving them no way but to knock the doors of law to protect themselves from the invasionist eyes of the media.

The right to privacy as a constitutional right was first recognized by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Kharak Singh vs. Union of India. However, it was linked to Article 21 only after the case of R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu.

Media does not revolve around just the B-Town news or political affairs. It is also a primary source of information about issues and crimes against children and rape victims. When the sensitivity of media in these cases falls short, is when humanity takes a step back. Several laws have been made recognizing the need to maintain the privacy of such groups.

What do international and national laws say?

On an international level, Article 16 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that no child shall be subjected to unlawful interference with his right to privacy and that the law protects them against such unlawful interference. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act also prohibits the media from disclosing the names and sensitive information like the address or school of a juvenile.

Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 also clearly states that disclosing the identity of an individual is an offense.

In regards to rape victims, Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that resonates UK’s Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 1976 in this provision states that disclosing the identity of a rape victim is a punishable offense.

The need to protect privacy from visual media

One most basic way to regulate such invasions of privacy could be to work on achieving a balance between rights of media and responsibilities of media. The right being, acting as an agent and dispenser of information in order to respect the right of the public to know(Right to know was defended by the court in the case of State of U.P v Raj Narain) and responsibility being honoring the constitutional right of privacy of an individual and not encouraging the culture of intrusion by promoting it as easy entertainment.

The press stands as the fourth pillar of democracy. I truly recognize the need for it to sometimes overstep the fine boundaries of privacy in order to deliver the whole truth. Such acts of intrusion, taken only once in a while under the garb of reasonable restriction put upon any fundamental right, should be allowed, provided it is seen as an exception approved under necessity. It should be prevented from becoming a normal course of conduct.

Disclosing information not permitted to be disclosed, violation of the right to be forgotten of a former convict, chasing celebrities with cameras, and violating their personal space, should not be seen as normal conduct under journalism. Like in the case of Ashok Vajpayi v Dainink Jagran, the court said that the personal conduct of a public servant, like getting drunk with a friend is no concern of the media, it does not amount to news for public benefit and thus amounts to a violation of privacy. However, the media has the option of disclosing personal information if it is for the larger benefit of the public, as was discussed at length in court in the case of Upsc Petitioner v. R.K Jain.

How can laws help in regulation?

The supreme court has already done so much work in laying down the guidelines for media ethics, like in the well-known cases of  K.C.John Director, Institute of Journalism v Deepika and the two very important cases about the deceased nuns accused of breaking the norms of their post, in  Sr. Cyllia, Superior Franciscans of St. Mary of the Angeles ‘Sneha Sadan’ and Father Flacio Fonseca v The Indian Express. These guidelines should be brought more into practice and into the conduct of the media. Media has great powers like access to people and places and wide influence and in the words of uncle Ben, with great powers comes great responsibility. I believe that the transgression of media into the lives of the people is a serious matter with a gravity far more intense than normally perceived. The emotional trauma, the humiliation, and the public ridicule can often not be measured under the consequences. Hence, every such transgression deserves to be penalized, sending down a message to every agency of the strict intentions to protect the privacy of the people.

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