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Whatever happened to privacy?

The question arises during week when several high-profile, private opinions go public.
Last modified: 22 May 2014 18:18
Australia's prime minister gives a lewd wink during a radio show, forgetting he is also on camera [AP]

Are the powerful and famous entitled to private opinions on matters in the public interest? It is an old question of course, but one that has been avidly debated again this week. Here in Britain, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, got in hot water when he compared Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler, in what he thought was a private conversation in Canada with a Polish war refugee. Cue outrage from some in Britain, and more significantly, from Moscow itself.

Given the scale of the Soviet sacrifices in the Second World War, it is a deeply offensive comparison. But, on the other hand, it is one that many people in Europe and the US have been making in recent weeks. Prince Charles must surely be unhappy that the remark was publicised, and not only because it further complicates Britain’s already fraught relationship with Russia. The unelected British monarchy is meant to stick to ceremonial matters, and not stray into areas of government policy. Prince Charles must be reflecting on just where and when he can voice an opinion that will not be relayed to the British media.

Then there was the case of the head of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, who made a series of offensive remarks about women in an email exchange with a friend. His detractors called for his resignation, and Prime Minister David Cameron said a politician caught writing similar things about women would have been forced to leave his cabinet. His defenders pointed out that the leaked emails were never intended for public consumption. Scudamore said they did not reflect his real opinion of women.

Representation issues

This raises all sorts of philosophical questions about the complexity of human nature. Can a man who denigrates women in private really be committed to promoting their welfare in a public area like football?  And what, for example, of somebody who espouses racist views in private?  Can he or she be entrusted to pursue racial equality in their professional lives? Anyway, Scudamore has survived the furor, and remains at the head of the global juggernaut that is the English Premier League.

Finally, there was an embarrassing moment for Austrialian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Although this was not so much a slip of the tongue, or the typing finger, as of the eye. When answering questions on a radio show about his budget cuts, he gave what can only be described as a lewd wink as a woman phoned in and said she was having to work on an adult sex line to make ends meet.

Abbott appeared to momentarily forget that there was a camera in the radio studio, and by the time he remembered, the damage had been done. He later apologised for what he called a "regrettable" mistake. Abbott should have known better. He was in a public place, performing in his prime ministerial capacity at the time.  He will be more careful next time. So, presumably, will Prince Charles and Richard Scudamore.