[Chronique de Pierre Trudel] Is it in the public interest?

A newspaper which reveals that a candidate participated in an erotic film accessible online a few months earlier. Another that tells us that a City is preparing to sell, for unpaid taxes, buildings belonging to a party leader. Such “revelations” that surface in the context of electoral struggles elicit mixed reactions. Some argue that it serves the public interest, while others see it as reprehensible voyeurism.

When a disclosure is made about a fact held to be in the private life of a public figure, the question invariably arises of the extent to which it is in the public interest. For some, it is necessary to recall or reveal facts or events even if it can make someone involved in public life look bad. It is argued that the public has a right to know. Others, on the contrary, argue that information that relates to a person’s personal life should not concern the public. A distinction is made between the public interest and what “interests” the public.

At the heart of the work of information professionals, there is the research and dissemination of information likely to enlighten the public. This constant quest to find, search and communicate information of interest to the community distinguishes journalistic activity from other expressive activities. But all the media, all the journalists do not have the same evaluations of what corresponds to the public interest. It suffices to compare the way in which different media cover certain events or give importance to certain facts while minimizing others to see the existence of different visions of the public interest.

Freedom of the press confers the ability to determine what is important to the audience served by the medium. The facts of the life of a personality evolving in the public space or the old situations in which he was involved can be meaningful. Those who are called upon to make a decision about him, such as whether or not to give him his vote, may find themselves enlightened by certain information.

According to its values ​​and its conceptions of life in society, a media will take it for granted that information deserves to be broadcast, because it is of public interest. But another media having a different vision or subscribing to other values ​​will consider that these same facts are not of public interest.

Views of what is in the public interest also vary over time. There was a time when events relating to family life were considered to be matters of private life. Today, abusive behavior that occurs in intimate relationships tends to be viewed as being in the public interest.

What does the law provide?

Under the law, it is when it is alleged in court that the dissemination of information is wrongful that the judge may have to determine whether it was done in the public interest. When called upon to answer in court for the information disseminated, the media assumes the burden of establishing that the dissemination is in the public interest.

This is why the media must take into account what is considered by the courts to be in the public interest. But as in society as a whole, judges sometimes have different assessments of what should be considered to be in the public interest.

For example, to a plaintiff who reproached a media for having recalled the crime he had committed two years earlier, the judge replied that there was no fault given that the information disclosed was accessible to the audience. In another case, the court ruled that broadcasting a photo of a person wearing the full veil circulating in a place widely accessible to the public to illustrate a report on the controversies that this garment raises was not of interest. audience. The woman did not exercise a public role and did not intend to run for public office.

The Supreme Court explained, in a decision handed down in 1998, “that it is generally recognized that certain elements of the private life of a person exercising a public activity or having acquired a certain notoriety can become a matter of public interest. This is the case, in particular, of artists and politicians, but also, more generally, of all those whose professional success depends on public opinion.

Thus, a stranger may find himself in a situation in the public domain. This is what happens when a person is a candidate for an election, is involved in a lawsuit, in a major economic activity or having an impact on the use of public funds or in an activity that calls into question the public security.

In a democratic society, the various ethical conceptions that may exist give rise to different appreciations of what is in the public interest. Respect for freedom of expression presupposes recognizing the diversity of visions and prohibits the imposition by law of a narrow conception of the public interest. In the sense of the law, only disclosures clearly outside what a reasonable person might consider to be in the public interest should be wrongful.

To see in video

(function(d, s, id){ var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) {return;} js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "https://connect.facebook.net/fr_CA/sdk.js"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));


Back to top button