Privacy and the Media: A Critical Analysis

The position of freedom of media has been legally upheld and explained many times by the Apex Court but the freedom of access to all such sources of information which is a very delicate issue has not yet been interpreted properly. Today’s media which is so concerned about marketing, earning high TRP’s, placing itself as number one etc., has forgotten the dignity and responsibility which the profession contains. And since there is no law to guide the media that what exactly pricks the privacy when it has to gather information, clashes arise.

The term “privacy” means many things in different contexts. Different people, cultures, and nations have a wide variety of expectations about how much privacy a person is entitled to or what constitutes an invasion of privacy. Privacy when broadly spoken, may deal with the freedom of thought, control over one’s body, peace and peace and solitude in one’s home, control of information regarding oneself, freedom from surveillance, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, and protection of reputation. Therefore, an attempt at defining privacy is of no use if the levels of abstraction do not translate into concrete specifics.

The Supreme Court in a number of cases like Romesh Thapper Vs. State of Madras1,        Indian Express Newspapers Vs. Union of India2 , Express Newspaper Ltd. Vs. Union of India3,  Sakal Papers Ltd. Vs. Union of India4 etc. has guided the media in relation to their work ethics. But it was the case or R. Rajagopal Vs. State Of Tamil Nadu5 which brought a major change in the relation of media with the privacy of a person.

           One Gaurishankar alias Autoshankar had been convicted multiple charges of murder and had been sentenced to death. His mercy petition was pending before the President for consideration. There was a Tamil magazine named Nakheeren which was published from Chennai. The contention of the publishers of this magazine was that Autoshankar while in jail had written his autobiography which he had sent to them for publishing in the magazine. It was further contended that his autobiography when published would bring to light the close nexus that existed between Autoshankar and important IAS and IPS officer in the state. Therefore, the magazine was being prevented from publishing the same. In reply, it was contended that the so called autobiography was not authentic, and a fake story had been prepared in the name of Autoshankar only to blackmail the government officers. It was further contended that the petitioners were only being asked to desist from publishing that which was defamatory of the officials and which also encroach of the privacy of Autoshankar and his family. The prayer of the petitioners that the magazine should not be prevented from publishing the writing, which they claim to be the auto biography of Auto Shankar was allowed precisely for the reason that prior restraint against publication was impermissible even if the so called auto biography was fake; and for the reason that agreed persons had remedy for damages which they could resort to. It is in this context that the court laid down scope the operation of libel law in the context of freedom of press in relation to the reputation right of the government and public officers and the scope of liability for the breach of privacy right of any person.

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