The Right to Know? Politicians’ right to privacy

Photograph: Pexels

Another week has gone by and yet another scandal has come from the ranks of politicians. This time, two prominent SNP MPs were found with their trousers down, but history shows us that transgressions are apolitical. The vast majority of times a politician is caught misbehaving the media has a field day. Yet where do we draw the line between the public’s right to know and the right to privacy for politicians? Is it really in the public’s interest to know whether or not a politician has had or is having an extramarital affair? How do you prove the case that it might be having an impact on their public work?

An independent and free media is essential for the functioning of any open society and democracy. By providing checks and balances they theoretically ensure that abuse of power is minimised. Investigative journalists have historically played a huge role in revealing scandals of genuine public interests. The Profumo affair is the prime example where a private misdemeanour potentially posed a threat to the British national interest. In such a case, the public has the right to know but in most cases the lines are much more blurred.

The case of John Whittingdale MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, is a case in point. His past relationship with a former sex worker was recently buy neurontin us revealed. Part of the outrage was the fact that he had shown confidential Cabinet papers to this woman. The Secretary of State had evidently shown a significant lapse in judgement, but did it ever pose a threat to the UK or the British public? Did we really need to know this or is this a private matter that does not impact on their suitability in their official role?

The affairs of both Angus MacNeil MP and Stewart Hosie MP, albeit common knowledge in Westminster, are essentially personal in their nature. That they were both with the same woman is a novel element but a widely irrelevant bit of information. Do we really need to know about two MPs that have had affairs behind their wives’ backs? They are personal tragedies for the affected families, but the media gloating is simply a disgrace.

The importance of the media’s role in scrutinising the public sphere is undeniably large, but with great power comes great responsibility. Journalists and editors alike must carefully weigh the public’s right to know with the rights of politicians to have lives, however complex. If no laws are broken, if there service to the public beyond doubt and not affected, then we must remember they are human, even at the highest offices of state and, in this case, of an opposition party.


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John Lindberg 32 Articles
John Lindberg is a former policy adviser to Sir Jamie McGrigor MSP and a self-declared science geek. His main interests are energy and environmental issues, with a burning passion for nuclear power. He recently graduated with a First from the University of Glasgow, MA (Hons) in Politics.

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