Diana, her death and how the paparazzi pursued her are already stale news, but not the question as to whether the paparazzi in particular and the news media in general have the freedom to pursue celebrities, public figures, national leaders and dignitaries wherever they go and photograph and/or report on them. Whether this freedom should be limited is the burning question.
Most commentators in our land, have expressed the view that it is desirable to limit the freedom of the press, even by promulgating laws, or more desirably, by the media men themselves establishing a limit to their freedom to delve into the "private life" of the "public figures."
This hue and cry is about safeguarding the privacy of public figures, but when it comes to ordinary figures like us and the press reports on our private lives, nobody, so far, has batted an eyelid. For example, when one of our sweetest Sinhala songstress marriage went on the rocks and there was a court case in Gangodawila Magistrates Court the details of their love life were reported extensively in the papers. In fact it is against our law to make public details of matrimonial matters. In fact, a court going into such a matter is expected by law, to hear it in camera (in private), preferably in chambers. Yet this couple didnt have even the protection of the law and none of our champions of privacy raised a finger in their defence. Of course she is not Diana, I know.
Now, the paparazzi is accused of, and by most people found guilty of hounding Diana to her death, because she was an international celebrity and any photograph showing some indiscretion on her part should fetch millions.
Billions all over the world have savoured photographs and films of Diana doing good deeds, extraordinarily humane acts. They savoured her beauty, her style, her manners and her heart, even though all those were private to her. Though private, nobody protested, no, not even Diana. Her wedding was one of the most glamorous events of the recent past - even her divorce. Even the movements of Diana were a matter of widest public interest.
Then came the crunch. There was this aspect of her life which showed that she was no goddess, that she was like you and me or even worse. She would sunbathe in skimpy attire. She would take on lovers, and lovers of most unconventional nature at that. The last lover who died with her (not for her) was not even an Englishman, but an Egyptian, not an Anglican but a Muslim. And that part is her private life and she was entitled to her privacy, away from the prying eyes of the press, the paparazzi.
Diana was married to the heir to the English Throne, and she was the mother to the future heir to the English throne, Prince William.
It is required by law and tradition that only a Britisher and only an Anglican can be the King (or the Queen) of England. And the mother of the future King of England takes on as her lover, a non-Britisher, a non-Anglican, but all that is her private life. Yet she retained until, her death, the title of Princess of Wales and she was, in any event, the mother to the heir to the English throne. Well! If Prince William, her son succeeded a few days back, before Dianas death, to the English throne, yet Diana, his mother, would be running around with an Egyptian Muslim, yet it would be her private life and she is thus entitled to privacy. Was she entitled to the glory of being, the Princess of Wales, future Kings mother and at the same time, to enjoy to the fullest her private life. She would have been the luckiest woman who had the best of both worlds, luckier that Queen Elizabeth II, who had to grin and bear all this in right royal dignified silence.
Now, who is a public figure? Leader? Dignitary? And why so? People pay attention to some people for some reason, more attention than they pay to run of the mill people. A leader is a person some people follow.
When Elizabeth II was only a Princess. Then no paparazzi followed her. No one peered into her private life: Nor did they respect her as anyone superior to them. She was a private citizen and therefore entitled to her privacy.
But come Elizabeth II, the Queen of England, things dramatically changed. They venerated her as their Queen and she had to be above board. If she showed any sign of weakness, the media would have pounced on her. Well! She is still their venerated Queen. Even now she can go back to her old life if she wants to. Then the paparazzi would give her up in no time. She can have all the privacy she wants. The predecessor of King George VI, fell in love with a divorced woman called Mrs. Simpson. He had either to give her up or give up the Throne. He stuck to Mrs. Simpson and gave up the throne, retiring to lead a private life. Well, give up being a public figure and enjoy your privacy. You cant have the best of both worlds.
Noel Coward lived the life of a recluse. He hated the camera and the camera wasnt in love with him either. One didnt pursue the other. They went their different ways.
Most of us love publicity; love the limelight. We work hard for it and we achieve it at a great price, our private life. Being in the limelight, you cannot undress yourself, unless your fame is of that calibre. You cant grumble. You worked for it.
Every society has its standards of good behaviour. The higher you are, the higher the standard. With different societies their standards do differ. Diana could wear her frocks several inches above her knee. Our President, Chandrika cannot do that. Of course, she can go back to oblivion and do that, but she cannot be the President of Sri Lanka and do it.
When you are a public figure and you love it, you have to constantly keep in mind "What would the people say." In fact you thrive in it. So you have to be mindful and not do anything that your mother would be ashamed of. Very recently, the heir to the throne of a Scandinavian country, was photographed nude jumping through a castle window into the swimming pool, where his "boyfriend" already was. The caption read: "Prince, what would your mother say". Of course one would say that that is the privacy any prince is entitled to, but his mother, the Queen of that country woudnt have endorsed her sons behaviour, even in private. She would rant at the paparazzi and she would rant at her son as well. Arent the subjects of that kingdom entitled to condemn such behaviour on the part of their King? Or they should be blind to those follies of their ruler and continue to hold their King in awe, veneration and high esteem? If otherwise, hadnt the paparazzi done a public duty?
Well, a lot of people talk of a limit to such freedom of the paparazzi and laws to curb such news hounding. Good. Now let anyone of them define "the limit of privacy" or "public figure" or "privacy" at that. They also have to make a catalogue of those public figures and the corresponding limits of privacy. And if you can come up with correct, solid definitions of the terms such as "privacy" a "limit to privacy" and "a public figure" and so on, I would come up with the title to the law. "Protection of Masquerades of Public Figures Law. No. 1 of the 21st Century".
To conclude, may I ask two questions. "What were Diana and Dodi running away from? Rape by the paparazzi?"
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