Toronto Star public editor Kathy English has a piece about public interest vs. personal privacy that caught my eye as this is a topic that has been discussed many times on this blog, where I have repeatedly maintained that “public curiosity” does not confer legitimate “public interest.”
The controversy was rekindled in Canada this past week by Toronto Star coverage of the daughter of Prime Minister Trudeau, a young woman who has consistently tried to protect her privacy and her wish for privacy. Just because the public is curious about her because of her father’s stature, does that make her fair game for ethical journalists? English writes:
…. Given journalism’s overriding commitment to freedom of expression and telling stories that interest and engage, when do journalists cross the line between reporting newsworthy information and intruding on an individual’s desire for privacy? Is there a difference between public interest and prurient interest?
These difficult questions emerged this week in complaints about the Star’s Page 1 story reporting on Sarah Coyne, the 19-year-old daughter of former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
The bigger question raised here was whether there was some public interest, given Coyne’s lineage, that justified intruding on her wish to avoid the media spotlight.
Read more in the Toronto Star.
Unfortunately, English does not firmly conclude that “public interest” was not an acceptable reason to intrude on this young woman’s privacy. But then, she doesn’t clearly distinguish between what is a matter of legitimate public concern or interest and what is just a matter of public curiosity. When journalists pander to public curiosity, as the Toronto Star seems to have done in this case, privacy loses.
I would have more respect for the Toronto Star if they came out an issued an apology for their decision and actions. This was just plain wrong. Public curiosity does not justify privacy intrusions.