Or ”How the media has eroded our right to be stupid”

You might think my analogy is a little obscure, but bear with me. You may have noticed earlier this year, that there has been a flurry of marches held worldwide, called Slut-Walks. Mostly attended by scantily clad women, reclaiming the right to wear whatever they chose, they sought to demonstrate that their clothing could not used to justify prejudice, abuse and sexual assault. In essence, they asserted that wearing so-called provocative clothing did not mean that they were “asking for it”. I happen to agree entirely, and that one thing cannot automatically lead to the other. The only way to know if someone is “asking for it” is to actually hear them ask you for it. Otherwise you could find yourself dangerously in the wrong.
The past week has seen a tsunami of shocking revelations about the way some sections of the media have acquired information on individuals, in order to write stories and sell newspapers. The tipping point, in terms of public revulsion, was the news that the mobile phone voicemail of a murdered teenage girl had been tampered with, thereby interfering with the police investigation and the hopes of her family for her safe return. The public were rightly outraged at this. Not at the methods employed, but at the innocence of the target. We would have considered the victim to be fair game if it had been a Premiership footballer or a soap actress, as many previous revelations have shown.
So why the double standard? Why do we award more rights to non-celebrities than to those in the public eye? Are famous people actually “asking for it”? That’s certainly the line we are fed by the newspapers themselves; so often that we have come to believe it. Of course there are many celebrities who do indeed make a career out of exposing their entire private lives to public scrutiny, and deliberately engage with the media to do so. Those individuals have clearly made that choice. Public figures in positions of responsibility could be included in that group too, to an extent, as they are accountable to the public.
How about all the others then? Does being famous, as a sportsman, actor, TV presenter mean that you have fewer rights than the rest of us? Moreover, does being good at something (music, acting, sports) mean you have to be a good person? It used to be the case that we expected rock stars and footballers to be bad, given all that access to money, booze, and adulation. Nowadays a scandal is declared if Adele or Wayne Rooney aren’t tucked up in bed by 10pm with an Ovaltine. Wayne Rooney plays football for a living, and does extremely well for himself. It’s his only talent, and has propelled him to the level of fame and fortune we can only dream of. But why have we (and the media) decided to hold him to a high moral standard when he’s not on a football pitch? It must never be the case that before someone trains to be an Olympic athlete, they must first consider if they want the concomitant media scrutiny that inevitably follows. Why do we insist that all famous people be role models, and revoke their right to privacy in order to enforce our morals on them?
I firmly believe that everyone has an absolute right to privacy, which cannot be trumped by being famous. We can choose to keep it, sell it or give it away. We can choose what to reveal, and what to retain. At no point do we lose the right to privacy simply because we have become famous.