No. 21 of #50cases.
You’re getting treatment for drug addiction from Narcotics Anonymous. Wouldn’t you would hope the fact would remain… anonymous? Unsurprisingly, supermodel Naomi Campbell was furious when the national press published photos of her emerging from a treatment centre, accompanied by lurid headlines about her addiction. She felt it was a breach of her right to a private life. Even as a public figure, surely there were some places she should still be able to live her life in peace and privacy.
The UK’s highest judges agreed. The fact that somebody is in the public eye – even somebody who has made a career of drawing the public’s attention – doesn’t mean they have no sphere of privacy. All of us have parts of our lives we’d rather have a veil drawn over: in the case of sensitive medical treatment, this isn’t just a matter of respecting people’s dignity, but enabling the treatment to be effective at all.
This case was so important as it marked a major step in the development of the right to privacy in the UK. The correct balance between privacy and freedom of the press has been heavily debated ever since, and underlies the scandal surrounding phone hacking. The public have an interest in sometimes knowing about the lives of those who lead them, or who hold themselves up as role models. But those people are still people, and have the right not to have every detail of their lives all over the Sunday papers. The public interest must be served, but that’s not always the same thing as just what the public is interested in. It’s a question of balance.