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Right to Know vs.

Right to Privacy
Today, the public is influenced very easily by the media. According to Joseph
Turow, Most people do accept what the mass media tell them in news and even in
entertainment about what and who counts in their world and why (204). The media
has great power in the world, and with this power comes great responsibility. Journalism
has become more and more influential in the life of society as technology has advanced.
Beginning with the start of the printing press to what we have today, journalism has had
one main job, to report what is happening. People want to know what is going on in the
world, and journalism has become a way to access this information. Journalism has
affected many aspects of life, including early contributions to a literate world and
energizing governmental revolutions and overthrows. In America, journalism has
adapted from prerevolutionary patriot and loyalist propagandists, to government
watchdogs, to muckrakers, reporting on the negatives of society, to what we have today, a
sensationalist mentality built through mass media outlets through the internet, TV, and
radio. Today, with the easy accessibility of information, journalists need to be more
careful than ever. The access of information has continuously changed with new
inventions in society. Because of the invention of the radio, the widespread production of
home television units, and the development of the computer and World Wide Web, people
can now access or print almost any information they choose. In addition to technology
allowing for mass media outlets to reach more people than ever, the technology also
allows the public to have permanent access to every sentenced published. As a primary
outlet for information in todays society, journalists have the responsibility of deciding
whether a persons privacy is more important than the publics right to information.

On the night of October 14, 2003, this journalistic responsibility was put to the
test. The Chicago Cubs were playing the Florida Marlins in game six of the National
League Championship Series (NLCS), a best of seven series which the Cubs were leading
3-2. With a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since 1908, the Cubs were
winning 3-0 with one out in the eighth inning when the unluckiest man in sports became
the most hated man in Chicago. Steve Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan, made a mistake he
will continue to regret for the rest of his life. With a full count, Luis Castillo fouled the
Mark Prior pitch down the left field line. Moises Alou, the Cubs left fielder, made his
way to the wall down the left field line where he leapt in attempt to catch the ball. There
was one problem; several of the spectators in the area tried to attain a piece of history by
catching the ball. There was one difference between Bartman and the other fans;
Bartman was unlucky, and he made contact. Most of the people watching would have
never known anything happened had it not been for the temper tantrum thrown by Alou
immediately following the play. The Cubs could not regain their composure. This
seemingly insignificant incident that happens in almost every baseball game sparked a
chain of events leading to a disastrous blow-up by the Cubs, who lost the game 8-3.
During the insuring collapse, people in the stadium began to realize what really happened
during that play, and took their anger out on the unknown spectator (Bartman). Chants of
asshole began to emerge from inside and outside the stadium and objects began to be
thrown at Bartman. Those watching could tell things were getting dangerous. Bartman
had to be removed from the game and put in a disguise by security to be safely removed
from the ballpark. In the hours following the game, one major question arose from this
incident. Because of potential harm to a legally innocent person, should the various

media, specifically journalists, identify him to the public? Based on the moral law the
release of private information breaks and the harm brought about by making the
information public, it is unethical for a journalist to publish a citizens personal
Many people point to the theory of categorical imperative as a basis for media
ethics. This is a deontological, duty based theory, and it states that everyone has the duty
to tell the truth, regardless of who it hurts. Although truth is key to ethical journalism, it
cannot always be put as an end that justifies the means by which it is obtained. A
journalist needs to balance this deontological theory with the theory of teleological ethics.
Teleological ethics is based on the consequences produced by an action.
Many times personal information is revealed by journalists they are breaking
moral law. According to article twelve of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(UDHR), No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family,
home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the
right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. Every person in
the world has the right to a private life. Unless a citizen is breaking the law or is a public
figure undergoing an act which may be seen to compromise his or her ability to perform
his or her duties, this right should always stand. Over the years, the Supreme Court has
continuously ruled in favor of a citizens right to privacy over government action. Why is
it that the media can disregard the privacy guaranteed to a person, while the government
The ethical code of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), Recognize[s]
that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do

public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding
public need can justify intrusion into anyones privacy. This says that unless a person
specifically seeks to become a public figure, no one has the right to invade their personal
life. SPJ member Casey Bukro states, One of the highest principles in the SPJ code of
ethics is to seek truth and report it. But journalists also should balance that principle with
others, such as whether revealing [a persons] identity could result in harm. Bukro
continues by adding that if the before mentioned person does not seek to achieve
notoriety from an action, he or she remains a private figure, who insist on retaining his or
her privacy and avoiding publicity. This makes it off limits to report about their personal
Bukro also argues, Journalists have an obligation to consider the honorable
course of action He says that at all possible times a journalist should be sympathetic
and leave personal information such as the identities of bystanders out of the publics
knowledge. Unless it is necessary for the good of the public, personal details of private
citizens should be withheld whenever possible.
The SPJs code of ethics also declares the act of publishing a persons private
information unethical based on the theory of teleological ethics. This is due to the
harmful consequences it can cause. According to the code, ethical journalists, treat
sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect (SPJ). This
statement includes respecting their privacy and protecting innocent people from harm
caused by their reports. By publicizing private information, a journalist opens up a
person to harm from the public. An example being, giving the address of a celebrity to
the public allows this person to be targeted by burglars or a stalker. The SPJ states that

journalists have a responsibility to minimize harm with their stories. Journalists need to
decide if their story is worth the worst potential consequences that could occur, or at least
if the specific details are worth it.
Journalists reporting regarding private information can be considered a form of
bullying. The U.S. government defines bullying as, unwanted, aggressive behavior
among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The
behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time (U.S. Department of
Heath and Human Services). If the school aged children aspect of the definition is
removed this can fit certain media outlets, including some journalists. Members of
various media sources have power over the average citizens through their ability to reach
and influence a substantial amount of people, as proven earlier. Many reporters today,
especially in tabloids, try to appeal to their viewers by writing what they think the public
wants to read. This is often times nonsensical attacks on the private lives of influential
members of society. When this is done between two private citizens it is considered
bullying, but when one side is a professional, doing his or her job it is considered to
be free speech. Ones freedom of speech does not take priority over anothers right to
privacy. This form of bullying has the same effects as any other form. The mental
damage done by bullying does not allow those affected to live normal, healthy lives.
Once again, reporters need to determine if their story or the specific details in their story
are worth the potential damaging consequence it may produce.
With regards to the Bartman case, many Chicago journalists and editors decided
to go forth and publish not only Bartmans name, but his place of employment, and the
neighborhood which he lived. This act is unethical for both the reasons stated above.

The personal information given was completely unnecessary to the story being written. It
was only given to help attract readers; after all, journalists today tend to write what
people want to hear not what they need to hear. It is also unethical due to the potential
harm brought to Bartman and his family. By telling the public the places where he
spends the majority of his time (his office and residence), reporters were almost inviting
viewers to visit him and make his life difficult. In the weeks following the game, a police
presence was needed at all times outside the Bartman residence. Before the incident,
Bartman was a die-hard Cubs fan and community hero, coaching local little league
baseball (many of his players pleaded disgruntled fans to forgive their coach). Bartman
was only guilty of loving baseball and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Today, ten years after that fateful October night in 2003, Bartmans whereabouts are still
unknown. Many have reached out to his representatives, looking for his side of the story,
but he still chooses to remain as much of a private figure as he can. His life is forever
altered due to the need for reporters to publish his private information because he did
what every other fan does at a baseball game, try to catch a foul ball. Remember
Bartman was, after all, just a fan. He did not lose the game; the Cubs did.
Although these actions do break a moral code, they cannot be deemed illegal by
federal law. The reason for this is there will be no one to enforce the laws impartially.
The reason the press is able to successfully be a watchdog over the government is
because they can act independently and cannot be influenced by fear of the government.
This is because of the first amendment, which gives the right to free speech and free
press. Allowing the government the power to regulate the press in any way would open
the floodgates for a full governmental influence over the media. This would harm the

public by giving the government free authority to do whatever they choose without the
potential of it becoming known by the public. The press has been a key component in
keeping the government ethically run over the years. Therefore, media industries are
forced to self-regulate with a code of ethics that can only be enforced through the power
of the masses.
Unless evidence is provided showing the information is necessary for the publics
well-being, it is unethical for the media to spread the identity and other personal
information of a person not proven to be guilty of breaking the law. This is due to the
moral law this action breaks and the harm it produces in the lives of those affected by the
release of information. All professionals, no matter their occupation, should strive to be
ethical in their business and personal lives. Just like in every aspect of life, some ethical
decisions are easy to make, while others prove to be much more challenging. Ethical
behavior proves to be difficult due to there being no clear or definite set of rules one can
follow because of the differences in every situation. Ethics works on an individual caseby-case basis. According to Donald K. Wright, it is up to individual practitioners to
decide whether or not to be ethical regardless of professional ethical codes (138).
Although all cases are different, there are guidelines that can be used to help determine
the proper course of action. In order for society to function at its full potential, everyone
should attempt to be ethical.
By Tom Korolyshun

Works Cited
Bukro, Casey. "The Media's Foul Ball." Ethics Case Studies. Society of Professional
Journalists, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <http://www.spj.org/ecs9.asp>.

"Bullying Definition." Stopbullying.gov. U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services,

n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. http://www.stopbullying.gov/what-isbullying/definition/index.html
"SPJ Code of Ethics." SPJ Code of Ethics. Society of Professional Journalists, 2009.
Web. 21 Nov. 2013. http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp
"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR, Declaration of Human Rights,
Human Rights Declaration, Human Rights Charter, The Un and Human
Rights." UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.
Turow, Joseph. "Understanding Mass Media and the Importance of Media
Literacy."Introduction to the World of Communication. Ed. Tammy R. Vigil. 1st
ed. San Diego: Cognella, 2013. 189-208. Print.
Wright, Donald K. Communication Ethics. Introduction to the World of Communication.
Ed. Tammy R. Vigil. 1st ed. San Diego: Cognella, 2013. 129-144. Print.