Either before or after you watch the rewrite movie, have a go at writing a conclusion for this essay in about 150 words. Should there be a law to protect privacy in the uk? Discuss and refer to a case study

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conclusions rewrite exercise

Either before or after you watch the rewrite movie, have a go at writing a conclusion for this essay in about 150 words.
Should there be a law to protect privacy in the UK?

Discuss and refer to a case study.
The media in the UK is notorious for its scrutiny, some would say harassment, of public figures in pursuit of a good story. One only needs to think of the case of Princess Diana to understand this, and until now, there has been no privacy law to protect such people, or indeed any private individual, from press intrusion. However, many people now feel new legislation is needed. This essay will argue that though on the surface, a privacy law is appealing, it is in fact a deeply flawed concept. Not only is it difficult to define key terms essential to making a law workable, but also it would clash with, and perhaps even damage, the whole concept of freedom of speech. To prove this, the essay will end with a case study, the Douglas v. Hello! magazine court case.

First, it is useful to establish what privacy actually is. For most people, it means the right to control access to information about their personal lives by other people. However, in law, this becomes very difficult to define, and for this reason, there was no law protecting privacy in England until it incorporated the 1998 Human Rights Act. Article 8 of this established the right to respect for one’s private and family life, his home and correspondence (EUlegal, 2002). Under this, there have been numerous cases of both private individuals and celebrities taking newspapers to court for attacking their privacy, but still no clear principles have been established. Therefore a law already exists to protect privacy, so the question is not whether we need more laws, but how to make the existing ones work.

Even if we could agree on a definition of privacy, some think that there should not be a new law to protect it anyway. Firstly, it would allow those in power, for example in government and business to hide activities that the public should know about. For example, if there were a simple law protecting an individual’s privacy, then the recent expenses scandal of British MPs would not have been uncovered, and many argue that it was important for citizens to know how their representatives spent their time and money. In brief, sometimes national interest is more important than a right to privacy. Secondly, many argue that any privacy law would only protect celebrities as going to court is such an expensive business, so ordinary citizens would be unlikely to benefit.
Given these legal costs, perhaps there is another way for individuals to protect themselves. The Press Complaints Commission (the PCC), a self-regulating body set up and run by newspaper editors has a code of practice that specifically deals with privacy, stating, ‘Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private life, home, health and correspondence. A publication will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent’ (Montgomery, 2002). The general public far prefer to use the PCC, probably because it is free, less risky and consequently less traumatic than going to court. Because of this, and also because of the previously mentioned concerns, a new law would not be useful or wise.

Some of these issues can be seen in a recent test case. In 2003, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones took Hello! magazine to court for publishing unauthorised photos of their wedding, which instead they sold to OK! magazine. Although they won, they did not win under the Article 8 of the Human Rights Act on privacy, which their lawyers referred to, but under commercial law. As the editor of Hello!, Eduardo Sanchez Jones argued, ‘For those who wish to protect their privacy, a feature in [OK] magazine does not achieve it’ (BBC News, 2003). The judge agreed, remarking that the case was ultimately about trade assets, but also noting that existing laws on privacy were inadequate. Despite this, some feel the case did in fact establish a right to privacy, at least for celebrities. It also raised the issue of press freedom, with many in the media feeling the judgment could stop them from doing their job, for example investigating possible illegal activities by individuals or companies. Such cases demonstrate the difficulty the law has in protecting privacy, and given the complex issues involved, any new legislation would face the same problems.

Possible answer

In conclusion, a UK law to protect privacy is not advisable. There is already some form of legal protection, plus privacy is a notoriously difficult concept to define. Beyond that, any new law could be damaging to a key component of our civil structure, namely freedom of speech. Such a law could also be largely irrelevant to the very people it is supposed to help, the general public, who can turn to the PCC instead, a less risky alternative to the courts. In fact, the main people at present who use the law to protect their privacy are celebrities who can afford to do so, and who actually see privacy as a commodity to be sold, as we saw with the Douglas court case. Intrusion into people’s lives by the press does remain a problem, but perhaps it would be better to address it by reforming the media rather than changing the law.

(153 words)

© E Powell 2013 www.epax.co.uk

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