Recently, concerns over First Amendment rights issues have been made public regarding an individual person’s right to freedom of the press and how that right may conflict with an individual’s right to privacy. This issue is magnified when a celebrity or a public figure makes a claim concerning their right to privacy. In this type of unique situation with celebrities and public figures, courts have often ruled in favor of the individual who claimed their right to freedom of the press. The rationale behind the courts’ decision includes the fact that celebrities do not have a right to privacy when it involves newsworthy matters. This leads us to question where the line should be drawn between these two First Amendment rights.
In the past, courts have consistently ruled in favored of the First Amendment right to freedom of the press, and they have also often ruled in favor of the journalist in “invasion of privacy” cases. For instance, in 2012, after the double murder–suicide of WWE superstar, Chris Benoit, his wife and former supermodel, Nancy Benoit, and their son, Hustler Magazine publically posted nude photos of the deceased, Nancy Benoit. The family of Nancy Benoit sued Hustler Magazine for $20 million dollars on the grounds that the magazine needed permission from the Benoit family to post the pictures and that the magazine invaded Nancy Benoit’s right to privacy. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied the Benoit family’s claim by ruling that the photos were considered to be newsworthy and, thus, acceptable.
However, in an interesting change of precedent, a Florida Circuit Court recently decided that a wrestling legend’s right to privacy outweighed a journalist’s right to freedom of the press. On March 18, 2016, Hulk Hogan was awarded $115 million dollars in damages by a Florida jury due to Gawker’s invasion of his right to privacy. Gawker posted a sex tape of Hulk Hogan from the mid–2000’s, which depicted Hogan having sexual relations with his friend’s wife. The Florida Circuit Court determined that the video footage did not having any newsworthy value, and, therefore, it was not an acceptable video to publish. This case exemplifies a change in how a celebrity’s right to privacy correlates with what content is deemed as “newsworthy.”
Today, there is still an ongoing debate between what content is acceptable to publish and what content is considered to be an invasion of an individual’s right to privacy. Due to these wavering First Amendment privacy laws and the laws regarding the right to freedom of the press, we have seen backlash in courtrooms and in the media. If the ruling in the Hulk Hogan case is the first sign of a change in how privacy rights are viewed, we may see a shift in the acceptable nature of what is published.