Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Media Law and Ethics - Week 5 - Secrets/Confidentiality

In this week's 'Media Law' lecture we discussed the three areas of the rights people have to keep secrets. The three main areas were state secrets, commercial secrets and the invasion of ones privacy (human rights).

The revealing of a state secret can range from anything such as accidentaly publishing a picture of a military building, to revealing the identity of an MI5 spy. Any building can be protected by The Official Secrets Act; if caught filming these buildings without any form of permission, you could run the risk of being in serious trouble. Even though this is the case, the building in question would have to display a clear sign indicating this, and if not, then you run no such risk.

Each person has the right to be sure that anything told in confidence will not be reported or disclosed to a third party. One of the best examples of this is a doctor-patient confidentiality. If a doctor decided that he/she wanted to tell somebody about a particular patient's condition without permission then this is judged as a breach of confidence, for which the doctor would be in serious trouble. Something like this is an example of a commercial secret. On the other hand, if the person telling the secret tells it to a brother/sister or boyfriend/girlfriend, the situation changes; there is judged to be no absoloute confidence in family members, and as a result there is no reasonable expectation for them to keep the secret. In order for us to know that the secret information is genuine it must have four things: quality of confidence, told in the correct circumstance (so not blurted out at a party in front of hundreds of people), no premission to reveal and it must cause actual detriment to the person.

One of the most famous cases to come out of the privacy law is that of Max Mosley. He had been accused by the News Of The World of taking part in a 'sick Nazi orgy' with prostitutes. At the time everyone expected Mosley to be fighting a losing battle as it was believed that he had no reasonable expectation for the prostitute not to reveal this. Mosley however was awarded a staggering amount of money in damages for the defamatory comments. For an overview of the full story visit http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/jul/24/mosley.privacy

The invasion of somebodys privacy is the third aspect to consider: one of the main ways we can explain this is in that of taking photographs (still or motion). For example, if one was to secretly take photos of somebody in their home and publish these photos, they would be in clear breach of this Human Rights Act. A main area that is being affected by these privacy laws is that or the workplace. Employers however, have a way around having employees tell secrets about the workplace or any dis-functionalities it may have. These are called 'gagging clauses': these are set out in the contracts of employment stating that if the employee reveals any work secret, they can be fired on the spot. This could inevitably work as a way around the beloved public interest law. A good case is that of Graham Pink, who in 1990 went to a newspaper and revealed NHS inadequacies in caring for the elderly; consequently Pink was dismissed for 'breaching confidentiality.' This behaviour is known as 'whistle-blowing', and many people have suffered the same fate as Pink. A good website for research on 'whistle-blowing' is http://www.pcaw.co.uk/ .

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