Sex, Privacy & Newspapers

18 02 2009

In the eighties, a Malaysian beauty queen had nude pictures of her taken by her boyfriend. In that instance, presumably after the relationship soured and in a fit of spite, the boyfriend sent those pictures to the newspapers.
At least one newspaper editor got rid of the pictures. But others did not. One paper even confronted the father of the girl with the pictures, illustrating the sequence of events through cartoons because actual pictures could not be used. It was ugly and distasteful.
The beauty queen had to step down from her position and the net result of that entire sad, sorry episode was that the boyfriend had his revenge. He was never brought to account for his actions.
He had got his own back on the girl, aided and abetted by the press whose motive was to get readers in. The newspaper which broke the story did not so much as name the boyfriend who caused much hurt and agony to the beauty queen by blatantly violating her personal privacy.
Selangor state executive councillor and assemblywoman Elizabeth Wong’s predicament is not much different. In this case, the pictures were believed to be taken by a former boyfriend without her consent.
Whatever the motive of the person who released the pictures to select media, he has achieved his objective. Wong has been embarrassed in public and has offered to step down from her position both as executive councillor and assemblywoman.
For the newspapers, there is a dilemma whenever things like this happen. If it is purely a personal matter with no repercussions on others, do we keep things out of the press? And even if we did, what assurance is there that it won’t appear on the Internet?
But once the news is out, really, there is not much point blaming the newspapers for continuing to use it. When the public’s prurient interest in such matters is raised to fever pitch, newspapers which ignore the interest do so at their own peril in terms of losing out to other newspapers.
It is news and there is an obligation to report what transpires after that and how a public figure responds to an unfolding event of great stress to her and the reactions of those around her.
Despite everything we say about the right to privacy and our public position that Wong did no wrong, it will be hypocritical if those concerned still insist that she pay the price with her resignation.
Let’s admit and acknowledge that for a wide section of the public — the vast majority of us normal human beings — there are boyfriends and girlfriends and intimate moments of great privacy.
If a partner violates that privacy for any reason, the other party is not to blame — the blame lies with the person who broke that trust, not the person who gave it.
If that is what we believe as a society, then Wong’s offer to resign should be rejected. If we believe that and still accept her resignation, then we are hypocrites for we are holding her responsible for merely, like the rest of us, being human.
Whichever way this whole sad, sorry episode turns out, the unquestioned criminal in this case is the person who took and distributed the pictures, and it must be pretty clear and obvious to any competent investigator who that is by now.
In the eighties, the beauty queen’s boyfriend got off scot-free for perpetrating what was essentially a sordid crime. Let’s hope that at least in this aspect history will not repeat itself. – The Star

…. lesson learned at the end of the day, for good or for bad, unfortunately history always repeat….


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