Should our law protect our privacy, and the privacy of celebrities? Brendan Fevola’s alleged dissemination of an intrusive photo of Lara Bingle highlights the issue of whether Australian law appropriately protects privacy.
There is no current legal right to privacy in Australia. However, the law is not static and there are some indications that the courts could move towards the development of a specific privacy right.
There has been a lot of media and public comment on the Bingle-Fevola scandal. Even Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has contributed to the debate and has said that making the photo public was wrong. Yes, taking and sharing an intimate photo of someone without consent is morally wrong. But it may not be illegal under current Australian law. Parts of life should be private, and having a shower is one of them. If someone’s privacy is wrongly interfered with, whether they are a celebrity or not, the law should offer appropriate protection and redress. This is particularly important in modern times, when mobile phone cameras and the Internet are ubiquitous.
There have been Australian cases successfully suing for damages in relation to publication of unauthorised images involving nudity and sexual activity. The rugby league player Andrew Ettinghausen obtained damages from HQ magazine for publishing an unauthorised naked photograph of him. In Victoria, a couple of years ago, a woman successfully sued her former boyfriend who gave DVDs of them having sex to her family, friends, neighbours and employer. However, neither of these cases was decided on the basis of a privacy right. The Andrew Ettinghausen case was decided on the basis of defamation, and the other found a breach of confidence.
The right to privacy is a human right. It reflects the inherent right to be treated with respect and human dignity. Australia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has agreed to afford protection for the human rights contained in it, which include the right to privacy. However, as these human rights are not specifically incorporated into our national law we have no way of seeking their protection. We have no federal Bill of Rights. While Victoria has a Charter of Human Rights, it is toothless. It does recognise the right to privacy and reputation, but it gives no right to take legal action and only applies to actions of government and public bodies.
A celebrity attempting to use the law to seek redress for the wrongful publication of photographs of their private lives would have a greater chance of success in the UK than in Australia. The supermodel Naomi Campbell, successfully sued a newspaper for publishing photographs of her outside a drug treatment facility.
A British tabloid magazine with exclusive coverage of the wedding of actors Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas obtained damages from another tabloid magazine that published unauthorised photos.
More recently, golfer Tiger Woods obtained an injunction against the British media publishing aspects of his private life, including photos.
Also, Kate Middleton, Prince William’s girlfriend, claims her privacy has been breached and has threatened legal proceedings in relation to unauthorised photographs taken of her while playing tennis in Germany.
Should celebrities be able to control the use of their images when they seek media attention and put themselves in the public spotlight? Is there less of an intrusion on Lara Bingle’s privacy when a revealing photo of her is published because she is a swimsuit model? Like anyone, she should have the right to choose when, where and how her body is photographed and images of it made public. The law may appropriately lower the bar as to the level of privacy afforded to those who place themselves in the public eye, but everyone should be afforded legal protection in relation to their private lives.
The Australian Law Reform Commission has recommended that there be Australian legislation protecting serious invasions of privacy. The Commission is right. There is no public interest whatsoever in publishing the photo of Lara Bingle in the shower. As a culture, we have become used to a media saturated with celebrity images and information. There should be a line at which this public and media appetite for celebrity coverage is drawn.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
21 posts so far.