Another trivial issue with a serious edge that I’ve been considering lately arises from the ongoing furore over Nicole Kidman’s obtaining of an Apprehended Violence Order against a couple of paparazzi in the wake of her Sydney house being bugged and an alleged high speed car pursuit (shades of Princess Di).
The Australian predictably condemned Kidman and editorialised to the effect that the whole concept of an AVO in such circumstances was outrageous:
The right to privacy of ordinary Australians is well protected, and there is no need for yet more barriers to the free flow of information to suit the self-important, the precious or film stars irritated by unwanted attention.
But is freedom of speech an absolute value, or might aspects of it sometimes properly yield to other rights like privacy? I can’t for the life of me see how the quality or freedom of Australian society would be adversely affected even if there was a complete statutory ban on the media “staking out” any person’s private home in the hope of getting unguarded photos, video footage or a coerced comment.
The phenomenon of people being harrassed and intimidated for photos or interviews is by no means limited to “professional” celebrities like Kidman. Victims of serious crime are also commonly harrassed too, as I discussed here in the context of Joanne Lees and the Falconio murder case. Arguably unlike filmstars like Kidman, crime victims have in no sense voluntarily submitted themselves to the tender mercies of the press and forfeited any right to privacy. But even for movie and pop stars, politicians etc, can it really be said that they’re “fair game” for all purposes and can legitimately have the privacy of their home invaded at any time just because they deliberately court publicity for their professional activities?
Any legislation banning the “staking out” of private homes would probably need some clearly defined exceptions where a defence could be made out, because it’s conceivable that there might be some very rare particular circumstances where the public interest (not just prurient commercialism) could be significantly adversely affected by such restrictions. But it’s worth considering, I reckon. What do others think?