Ushna Shah And The Private Lives Of Public Figures

Ushna Shah And The Private Lives Of Public Figures
The story of how Ushna Shah was harassed and how it left her devastated is no secret.

Over the years, our press has been granted increasing freedom. A positive development, for a democratic way of life, social media has given many the liberty of expanding their cottage industry of publicising the intimate details of the lives of the rich and famous – with no regard for their rights to privacy. So, access to data plays an integral role in how society’s media/entertainment consumption. Such outrageous invasions are endured by them, at the tap of an app. Public figures are not public servants.

First of all, there’s a reason why privacy is referred to as a right, not a privilege. Secondly, the point is that social media has limits, which is why many celebrities often choose to refrain from posting pictures of their children.

And what it really boils down to is: just how public is a public figure? It really makes us question the mere existence of the right to private lives of public figures, be it a celebrity, a politician or a sportsman.

Many public figures use media to get an impactful message across to the populace, or to bring credibility to an agenda. This enables public figures in carving narratives and opinions.

But the media acts not only as a broadcaster. Tragically, it is also a shrewd watchdog that is entitled to information about the private lives of public figures.

In the case of Ushna Shah’s wedding, we agree that while investigation into celebrities' public work is fine, there has to be a certain circle to operate from, beyond which the public figures can exercise their right to privacy in their private lives.

The degree to which the media should be allowed to investigate and publish specifics of public figures’ private lives varies from country to country. For example, France is more stringent with its laws that protect personal privacy than Britain is.

However, I believe Pakistan has no boundaries to the extent of intrusion by media organisations. Although it is a debatable topic, there is a dire need to assess this urgently.

Because what followed after calling out the particular media person and questioning their ethics was a barrage of comments. And while one black sheep spoils the whole family, it also allows us to pause and think about the power that social media holds to elevate anyone to a platform, and bring them down. And rightly so.

Should, then, the private lives of public figures be fully scrutinized, or should the right to privacy trump the freedom of the press? Where do we a draw a line?

I believe the way forward is to strike the right balance. Balance: too much to ask for in Pakistan, eh?

Granting that many facets of the private lives of celebrities and public figures do subsequently enter the public domain, it does not follow that every aspect and detail of their private lives are legitimate quarry for a journalist/media. They are entitled to some space of privacy. The information which they legitimately choose to keep private certainly constitutes sensitive personal data.

And the realms of entertainment and media traditionally rely on a large chunk of privacy and publicity rights that form a protective shield for them. Although it is a nuanced and complex issue with varying degrees of importance, privacy is still a right, just like the right to work, or the right to purchase goods.

In my opinion, Ushna Shah’s Nikkah ceremony should have been protected from publication, as wrongful publication was a breach of confidence of details which have the mark and badge of confidentiality. While this was an extraordinary event, it goes on to show the lengths to which the media can has been known to pursue public figures for a story that undeniably brings stress to them and their families, leaving them both with health issues and mental distress.

Since celebrities are influential icons in society, how do their actions in the communication, expression or gathering of information factor into freedom of the press? Does freedom of the press mean celebrities shouldn’t be allowed the opportunity to have a private life just like any other individual?

It’s one thing to snap them while working or publishing content about their upcoming projects, but it’s another to be snapping them when they are at home with their children, or in an intimate familial affair, or participating in their daily life, exploiting it into something horrendous for personal gain.

The counter argument being thrown around is “if they don’t want their private life to be flashed around, then they shouldn’t be a celebrity — it’s that simple.” Is it, though?

On the one hand, the constant exposure that the celebrities receive combined with the expectation that such exposure inevitably occurs, makes them more psychologically tolerant than they might otherwise be. However, while some have a higher threshold of tolerance, others cherish their privacy. So, the tolerance from some may lead to abuse of many.

Being a celebrity has numerous negative effects as it is, with people constantly trolling them, their need to be almost always perfect-looking for their audience and more. I don’t know about everyone else, but that would stress me out. Celebrities suffer from a lack of privacy. To me, who would want to deal with this every day?

Of course, there are codes of ethics that all media sign up to, containing caveats to ensure that physical and mental harm doesn’t occur. Occasionally, they can fail to live up-to these ethics, they are, by and large, better adhered to.

And so, professional sanctions must take place to minimise such an issue from occurring again.

Think about whether you want your wife and kids being followed and harassed for no reason at all. Living their daily lives under the public eye, many contend with the fabrications and distortions of gossip columnists, the infatuation of stalkers, and the unrelenting paparazzi, who follow them into restaurants, to their children’s schools, on vacations, and even into their own marriage ceremonies.

So, the next time you enjoy a video about celebrity life and pass a judgment or troll them on their dress or body shame them, go ahead and put yourself in their shoes – think about how you would feel. I promise that you would pray for a normal, private life just as much as they do.