Recently Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin had to issue a public apology for a “controversial” picture that emerged from a private party she had hosted at her official residence. The image features Marin, partying with two well-known influencers showing two women kissing each other while covering their bare breasts with a “Finland” sign.
Marin acknowledged the inappropriate nature of the picture and apologized for the same. She said that the picture should not have been clicked in the first place.
The image was first shared on the TikTok account of a former Miss Finland contestant, who also appeared in the photograph. Marin told reporters she had spent the evening with her friends at her residence and that they had gone to the sauna. Responding to conflicts online and speculations of Marin abusing drugs at the party, she underwent a drug test and shared the negative result of the same to clear any suspicions from her political adversaries. She further maintained that nothing of illegal nature took place at the party.
During the discourse, “#Solidarity with Sanna” was seen trending on the micro-blogging site Twitter, being used by people, especially women who acknowledged Marin’s right to privacy and personal life. Hundreds of videos of women partying online are being posted under the same hashtag.
The point of contention however stays that are public figures not entitled to the luxuries of private life, away from cameras?
Privacy can simply be understood as the right to be left alone, the right to be free from any unwarranted publicity and the right to lead a life without any unwelcome interference by the public in matters where thesaid public isn't concerned.
With the development of new media, the democratization of knowledge, and the rapid spread of information, the “personal” lives of public figures are viewed under a magnifying glass, with great scrutiny; to the point where it could be argued that those seeking or holding elected office are frequently denied a level of privacy proportionate with sufficiently defending fundamental human rights. These breaches of confidential information can prove to be detrimental to the life of the public figure in question. For the intent and purposes of the article, the only “public figure” in question will be politicians.
In competitive democracies, a common characteristic is an unrivalled need to create angst amongst the public regarding one’s oppositional contemporary. This unrivalled need to publish damaging information creates an atmosphere where the “right to privacy” always becomes a matter of contention.
The distinction between a politician's public and private life seems like an easy, comprehensible line, separating church and state, however, this area is morally grey and mostly blurred. While every individual is entitled to privacy, when one runs for office, it is inevitable for certain private information to be public and for this information to be of relevance to the citizens.
Because this concept is vastly subjective, everyone draws this line in a different place. The general principle, however, dictates that if the private acts or matters of a political figure affect the performance and dispensation of their sworn obligations and duties, then such information cannot be protected under the garb of the “right to privacy”.
For instance, during the second lockdown of covid in the UK, Boorish Johnson was reprimanded for ‘celebrating” a birthday with nearly half a dozen people, which was in contravention with the official health guidelines, and the messages of stringent safety Jhonson was spreading. This instance highlighted behaviors of hypocrisy and ignorance, which the public perceives as an impedance to performance, infringing on public interest.
It is an unsaid rule amongst the voters that officeholders and constituents are more likely to have wider reception if they practice the virtues of honesty and trustworthiness in both personal and private life.
Why do Politicians deserve privacy
Politicians are more often than not associated with biased and anticipated information which is untrue or polarized. In such cases, a good consumer of said information should do due diligence, to figure out the authenticity of said news and its political relevance. Such biased pieces lead to the association of certain character traits which further harm the candidate’s ‘suitability” for the elections.
The misrepresentation and the resultant vilificationaren’t fair. Politicians, while elected officeholders are citizens of the nation too. Thus, the right to privacy extends to them as well. Publication of any unwanted personal information can thus be treated as a violation of the law. For instance, a politician in the United Kingdom filed a lawsuit against the media house that released photographs of the officeholder simply dining with his family. It is thus a matter of morality and ethics. In India too, late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was subjected to public criticism when he along with his wife, Sonia, her parents, film star Amitabh Bachchan and others, holidayed in Lakshadweep in December 1987. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a campaign speech, alleged that Rajiv used the government-owned plane as a personal taxi for his holidays. These “instances” have thus been politicized and used for electoral gain.
Ethical dilemmas raised by a politician's personal behavior
Socrates propounded virtue to bea matter of understanding, and that once a person understood good and evil, he or she would naturally be prudent, temperate, courageous, and just. Aristotle however, argued that virtue had this intellectual component, but also included the virtue of character-that is, habits of behavior developed by proper training. This thus raises the question that politicians might not entirely behave authentically on account of the public training they go through. Eventually, this builds to an ethical dilemma. Public information about officials also includes being cognizant of their history. Here, acts of “youthful indiscretion." like inebriation and intake of drugs previously and is this germane to their current character? Is marital infidelity a ground for judgement? What is the “statute of limitations” on these incidents?
There needs to be a discernible effect on the normal climate at large and for these instances to directly affect office work in order for them to be considered a deterrent. Another valid question is the extent of these instances and their nature. Can moral yet potentially deleterious reasons infringe on the politician’s performance? For example, mental illness. Thomas Eagleton in 1972 was running for vice president until his struggle with depression came out in the media, and he was dropped from the ticket. Can this be considered fair?
Laws relating to Privacy
Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) propounds that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence nor to attack upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home, and correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation”
Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights explains “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence; there shall be no interference by a public authority except such as is in accordance with law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Finding a confluence of opinions where civic, political, and private interests are respected is difficult. However, it is imperative to understand that politicians' private lives are only one of the many aspects that can help paint a picture of what type of leader they may be. It is a valuable resource voters can use to determine if a person is someone they want to represent in office. The moot point remains how illogical or logical it is for such instances to be weaponized. It is the voters’ decision to judge the follies of the officeholder, keeping relevant rationales in mind.