Privacy versus Public interest

Posted: June 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

This week, Joleen and me presented on the dilemma of journalist regarding privacy and public interest. Firstly, we need to understand what public interest is. Public interest is an issue that the public has the right to know, needs to know and wants to know. When talking about this issue, we touch journalistic ethical code. When do we decide an invading privacy report as ethical or unethical although it does serve the public interest? I’d like to convey my opinion in two examples below.

On On March, 17 and April 23, 2010, Reuters published two investigative story by Murray Waas, detailing how two of the nation’s largest insurance companies, Assurant and WellPoint, had a “company policy of targeting policyholders with HIV” for cancelation of their policies once they were diagnosed (Chittum, 2010). They utilized “a computer algorithm that automatically targeted… every other policyholder recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The software triggered an immediate fraud investigation, as the company searched for some pretext to drop their policies. The reporter, Murray Waas, was actually blamed for invading personal information of the patients during his investigation. However, I think his actions could be justified because he actually reported on something that the public has the right to know.
We have known paparazzi all long that they follow celebrities, taking photos of them without their permission, hiding somewhere to catch the photo who the celebrities are dating with (Stutt, 2008). Miley Cyrus is one of the most attracting name to paparazzi. The paparazzi follow her everywhere she goes. Is this considered as ethical? To me, no. So where is the bottom line to judge the ethics in reporting news in serving the public interest? I guess it lies in the purpose of reporting. Are journalist reporting this to inform people about some important problem or just merely increase their newspaper’s circulation? What are their purpose of reporting?

Chittum, R 2010, Reuters is Excellent in Digging up a Health Insurer’s Tactics, Columbia Journalism Review, 17 March 2011, viewed 21 June 2011, <>.

Stutt, A 2008, Internet Privacy or Public Spectable? An ethical dilemma for Journalists, Centre for Journalism Ethics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, viewed 21 June 2011, <>.

  1. Josephine says:

    Personally, I feel that it is a good presentation. It is very difficult for journalists to cater to public interest and at the same time, protect privacy. Take Ryan Giggs’ case for example – I feel that we do not have the right to know, or even NEED to know about his extra marital affair simply because it doesn’t affect the way he is going to perform for a big match! In fact, I feel that journalists should stay off celebrity’s track and instead, focus their energy on reporting ‘current’ & ‘real’ affairs like the rise and fall of the economy, which will directly affect us!

  2. yale40 says:

    Hi, khanh 🙂 I pretty much enjoyed your blog post, especially this topic !! I totally agree with your opinion which we need to understand what public interest is. If we do not understand and if we are not clear with it, we do not know what does public has and we do not know what do we need to know and wants to know. moreover, as Josephine mentioned above we even need to know about his extra marital affair in Ryan Gigg’s case hahahaha…

  3. Shasikala says:

    Heya Khanh,
    Interesting post! I guess the issue here is whether news companies should publish news that are for the public interest or news that are interesting to the public. Also, it is hard, and perhaps nearly impossible to draw a line between the public’s right to know and the individual’s right to privacy. But when it comes to celebrities, these are the kind of ‘news’ that people want to know and also celebrities should be prepared to always be in the spotlight and to have constant media attention since they are already so well known. What do you think? Also, in today’s competitive media context, media companies just want to sell their news to earn profits. Well, you can’t really blame the journalist because they are just doing what they have been told to do.

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