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Public figures include politicians and other public officials such as judges and civil servants as well as celebrities such as film stars, musicians and sports stars. The very nature of these roles opens these people to scrutiny by the press. The extent to which the media are legally free to investigate and publish details of public figures’ private lives varies from country to country. Countries like France are much stricter on protecting personal privacy than, for example, Britain.
People have a right to know about those in power. Whether through taxes, in the case of politicians and civil servants, or by revenue generated by films, music, TV, sporting appearances or concerts in the case of celebrities—these people’s income is dependant on the general public.
People have the right to make informed judgements about the kind of leaders they have. Attempts to restrict what may be reported about public figures in the press could easily become a conspiracy to keep voters in the dark and to manipulate them. All elections are to a greater or lesser extent about the character of the leading politicians involved. Unless the voters are allowed insights into their private lives they will lack the information needed to make a fair decision at the polling booth. For example, some people believe that a politician who betrayed his wife in an affair was equally capable of breaking his promises and lying to his country.
Exposing corruption and dishonesty on the part of public officials and businesses is a critical part of the function of a free press, and it is essential to the functioning of a free-market economy. If investigative journalists are prevented from scrutinising the private lives of public figures, then corruption and crime will be much easier to hide.
Public figures know that with fame comes a price and that price is constant scrutiny. In fact, many celebrities actively seek media exposure in order to advance their careers, revealing to the media many aspects of their personal lives. Once success has been bought in such a fashion it is then somewhat hypocritical to complain of “press intrusion” into those few aspects the star would prefer to remain hidden.