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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Drawing the Line

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK
(Special thanks to Donna Freydkin and Olivia Barker)

Tarkan and Bilge on their way to Riga 2007 © Sabah, Tarkan and Bilge in front of the cameras © Hürriyet, Tarkan and Bilge guests at Gürkan Söğütoğlu's wedding © Magazinalemi

It's that time of the year again, when gossip columnists dust off their articles and begin to rehash old speculations into new ones in an attempt to aim their arrows at the major names in their entertainment industry. If a star is out in public, he or she is fair game and, per the rules of the Web, fact-checking isn't required.

Tarkan and Bilge guests at Gürkan Söğütoğlu's 2007 wedding
In Turkey, Tarkan is the main course of such hunts, and the Turkish celebrity sections have once again been more focused on the pop star's private life and his relationship with Bilge Öztürk than his music projects.

The constant will-they-will-they-not get married speculations have now given way to their split-up (with the press refusing to believe Öztürk's statements to the opposite). Some press channels are even reporting that Tarkan is planning to "flee Turkey" - this time house-hunting in Los Angeles instead of New York - contradicting other celebrity reports that the artist had expressed how glad he was to be living in Turkey at a recent World Air Transport summit gala evening.

Should these really be matters for public consumption? We would be idealists if we believed that celebrity gossip columns didn't exist for a reason, but it seems Internet technology guarantees that a hallmark of the 21st century is going to be a complete breakdown of factual reporting and privacy.

Has it gone too far if we can't distinguish between what is invasive and what the public have a right to know? Or should we write about every bit of gossip that's out there? How do we draw the line?

Celebrity Privacy

Public figures never have had the same expectation of privacy as other citizens. This was clear a century ago and remains so today. The issue of celebrity privacy goes back at least to the nineteenth-century growth of newspapers, but came to dominate discourse on privacy at the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the new millennium.

As celebrity status has grown, curiosity and obsession with celebrities have grown, and the intrusiveness of the press has grown. While limits on information available to the public about "public" individuals in the political arena might conflict with the western view of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and transparency of government, what about those that represent the entertainment community?

A transatlantic case that came to trial under English law was the claim for damages by the film stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas against Hello! magazine in 2003. The prosecution claimed that their right to privacy had been breached by the magazine's unauthorized publication of photographs from their wedding. Both sides claimed a vindication of sorts when Zeta-Jones and Douglas were granted the relatively small sum of £14,600 (US$23,360), including £3,750 each for emotional hurt, in compensation for what the judge ruled was a breach of confidence, since the couple had granted publication rights to another publisher. The judge rejected the couple's complaint about invasion of privacy since there was no privacy law in England.

Tarkan and Bilge in the public eyeLet us not be naive about this; some experts believe celebrity privacy is increasingly an oxymoron. For celebrities who are not politicians it is their job to traffic in the bizarre and "attention getting", but they want to play entirely by their rules. Along with their agents/managers, they manipulate the press and thus deserve a far lower expectation of privacy in their individual affairs. However, they also desire the right to maintain a private "space" free from the scrutiny to get the opportunity to be creative and spontaneous.

Mark Lisanti of Hollywood gossip blog Defamer jokes about some kind of enclosed celebrity biosphere where the celebs can all live together, with Hollywood and New York devolved into paranoid enclaves in which stars are afraid to leave their homes for fear of not just the lenses of paparazzi but also the public, who can snap pictures and text a celebrity's whereabouts to a community of millions, all in real time.

For some celebs, quality sites like Tarkan Deluxe can be a platform for them to hear what others are saying about them, while for fans it can magnify their experience of their idol. Yet, it all depends on where such sites draw the line editorially. Tarkan Deluxe monitors the Turkish press channels and brings the news to fans with warnings and informed opinions, and is careful not to enter the realm of the celebrity's own PR or the Turkish press' fiction. However, most celebrity sites suffer from a type of starstruck love/loathe journalism.

Starstruck Journalism

With the popularity of gossipy websites such as Defamer, Gawker and Perez Hilton, the schism between famous people and regular people is shrinking, and with the tabloids continuing to pay for anything juicy they can get - or as with some Turkish gossip reporters who appear to just make it up - the public seems to love it. If it is correct to say that this market of economics - the press supply because the public demands - is in the driver's seat about what is fair and legitimate, then far less privacy is possible for celebrities in modern societies.

Yet, a public obsessed with information on celebrities may well pay a price. Like Tarkan, fewer will be willing to be media targets or celebrities in other ways, such as refusing to appear on domestic talk shows or give interviews, if their privacy is deemed irrelevant.

This also raises the question about the dangers of celebrity obsessions. Can democracy survive with such obsession with celebrities? When Princess Diana died in 1997, part of the press coverage dealt with how she had publicized the "land mines issue" - that this troubling social, humanitarian problem might have escaped serious press and public attention without her. As a journalist, I found that damning of my contemporaries, as I did when Tarkan tried to highlight the environmental dangers of his government's dam building project in southern Turkey. That the Turkish news media would not have been aware of these important issues without a celebrity leading the way is a terrible indictment of contemporary journalism.

It's unsurprising, then, that the latest in Tarkan's love life makes for better reading.

The views in this article are those of the author alone.
Read more Mark Mayhey articles on Tarkan >>

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