The small Irish newspaper the Irish Daily Star is being threatened with closure after publishing topless pictures of Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. A few days before that incident, the British royal family was embarrassed when pictures of a naked Prince Harry were leaked to the press. That embarrassment was only made worse when French paparazzi took the topless photos of the duchess during her visit to France with her husband, Prince William.
English media had reached an agreement not to publish the pictures of the duchess, but the Irish Daily Star ignored the agreement of its British colleagues. The French publication that first published the photos later said they had even more revealing photos that they also intended to publish. In addition, the pictures have been published in Italy.
Press freedom is a civil right constitutionally protected in many countries. Paparazzi are of course involved in a kind of press operation, but they frequently go to extremes.
Most of the individuals and incidents they focus on are gossip-related, and the focus of their reports frequently involves issues of privacy.
On Sept. 10, Japan’s financial services minister Tadahiro Matsushita tragically committed suicide because he knew gossip magazines were about to report on his extramarital affair.
It is the media’s duty to satisfy the right of readers and viewers to know, but they have to be very strict when it comes to respecting the object of their reporting, in particular in terms of their life and reputation.
The main reason for reporting on an issue is to uphold justice and the rights of the public, and it is a self-evident truth as well as a justice requirement that when the media report on irregularities they should not withhold information or cover up shortcomings and mistakes. That is the kind of reporting that is justifiable.
On the contrary, when a report is overly concerned with and focused on gossip and the privacy of public figures, there is no question that this amounts to disrespectful interference in their personal lives.
The agreement among British media to not publish the nude pictures of the duchess is evidence that the media industry is capable of self discipline, although this Irish newspaper chose to ignore the decision of its English colleagues, and might now suffer the consequences of its decision.
If the Taiwanese media were capable of the same self-discipline as the English newspapers, they could quickly win back public trust.
The pursuit of press freedom does not mean pursuit at all costs, and if our media understood the need for respect and self-discipline, it is likely that the scope of press freedom would be greatly expanded.
Kung Ling-shin is an associate professor in the Department of Journalism at Ming Chuan University.
Translated by Perry Svensson