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Public figures

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Public figures are those who have got their positions through the choice of their people, people who have been elected to lead the country or who hold responsible positions in their societies. They are people like royalty, presidents, prime ministers, ministers and members of parliament. To this we could add judges, public prosecutors and other important civil servants. It is true that they are often the subject of news hounds. Public figures are often reported at length on all their activities and quite a lot of it concerns their private lives. The question is should their public lives be an open book and should we all be concerned about what they do in their own time? Can we draw a line and say that they should be just like other top management people of large corporations. These people seem to be at liberty to do what they like in their own time. Few peo​ple, even the media, care if they cheat on their wives as long as they are honest in their jobs and do not break the law. However there seems to be lot of concern about what a minister does – at all times.

First of all it seems logical that powerful people need to be watched more closely than ordinary people. The reasons are simple. They could abuse their powers. This has happened quite often all over the world. Also, if they fall, they will take many down with them. If a minister falls, he may take his party down with him; if an ordinary man falls, there will not be much consequence. Only his family may suffer with him. Much more is at stake when a public figure errs and thereby causes ripples throughout the country. A minister having an extra-marital affair is a seri​ous thing in most countries. The premise is that a man who cheats on his wife is not to be trusted with the destiny of the nation. It seems that if he is dishonest in one area, he is likely to be dishonest in other areas too. For this reason, public figures are closely watched by the media and reported on regularly.

Media coverage of public figures should be close and the people should be informed about what their leaders are doing. This applies to their private lives up to a point. The media should only watch and report on public figures if what they are doing is illegal or immoral or if it would affect the nation in a detrimental way. There are some instances where it is apparent that the public figures are not up to any misgiving but are doing something they would rather do in private. A public figure is a father (or mother) too and he may want to have a quiet outing to a secluded spot with his children. He may want privacy. In such cases his privacy should be respected. After all he is a human being and may just wish to be on his own and unwatched. Again his domestic affairs should be left alone. Just like other families, he may have a rebellious teenager or a drunken brother. If they do not affect the public figure’s job or position in any way, the media should leave them alone. Nothing is to be gained by covering such topics just for the sake of news.

The media acts as a watch dog over public figures who are expected to live in dignity. However, coverage should be only on those matters which would affect the standing of the state, or moral issues which are frowned upon by the people of the state. In some cases, such issues differ from country to country. For example in some countries a minister having a mistress would be enough to ruin his career and damage his party, whereas in others, such behaviour is considered acceptable. The media should also leave alone issues which are private to the public fig​ures but which have no bearing on their offices and would not compromise them.

References:

Jacqueline Trescott, “History’s New Look,” Washington Post, September 18, 2004.

Libby Copeland, “Guiding Spirit,” Washington Post, September 15, 2004.

Mary Carole McCauley, “Honoring the Spirit of the Day,” Baltimore Sun, September 22, 2004.

Paul Richard, “Shards of Many Untold Stories,” Washington Post, September28, 2004.

Thomas W. Sweeney, interview by Akim D. Reinhardt, January 4, 2004.

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