Over two years have passed since that fatal car crash in a Paris tunnel, and the fundamental question still burns: Who is morally responsible for the tragic and senseless death of princess Diana?
Although the investigation report from the French magistrate has yet to be released, many of the details are widely known. Was her chauffeur responsible? After all, he was drunk and speeding. Her body guard? He let her into the car. Diana herself? She apparently instructed the chauffer to speed up. What about her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, who made the hasty decision to change car and driver to elude the media?
Does moral blame lie with the hungry pack of photographers who waited outside the Ritz hotel to hound and harass her, particularly the so-called paparazzi who pursued her like jackals into the tunnel? What about the editors who buy their photos? Or the people who buy the newspapers?
Some blame Paris road authorities for not installing guard rails in the tunnel. Others blame Prince Charles for being a lousy husband, and Camilla Parker Bowles for winning his affection.
Is there an answer to this moral dilemma? If so, could the answer help prevent future tragedies? Yes and yes.
Certainly, bad decisions were made in haste on Diana’s behalf (inadequate security, drunk chauffeur, excessive speed), but what was the impetus for those decisions? It was Diana’s legitimate desire for privacy and the photographers’ lascivious resolve to violate her right to privacy. These photographers, and many other people, believe that the private details of a celebrity’s life are “public property.” They are not! The celebrities’ statements, relationships and activities performed in private rightfully belong to them; they do not, as so many want to believe, belong to “the public.”
The right to privacy derives from an individual’s right to his (or her) own life, liberty, property and pursuit of happiness. The fact that celebrities make millions for being popular doesn’t mean that they forfeit these rights and become “public property.” Each person’s life is his own — celebrity or not; the private details are his to reveal as he sees fit. Neither Diana nor anyone can pursue their life, liberty and happiness so long as “the public” believes it has a right to every detail as brought to them by reporters and photographers who hound, intrude and harass.
Whether Diana had “exploited” the media on occasion (as many claimed), or whether her choice of romantic partners was “objectionable,” or whether Charles was a lousy husband — the fact remains that Diana was being denied her legitimate right to her privacy. Herein lies the cause of her death, and the moral guilt.
The photographers who invaded her privacy in order to snap a million-dollar photograph definitely deserve moral blame. Such unscrupulous creatures will always emerge when the stakes are high and they can get away with it. Who makes this possible?
The editors who buy photographs from the invaders of privacy deserve moral blame. They are generally more educated than the paparazzi, and are more aware of the moral (and legal) issues involved. They have the power to reject the photos. But the same noxious fertilizer for unscrupulous photographers — public lust for the products of privacy invasion — also nurtures unscrupulous editors. Where would these editors be without their eager customers? Surely, moral guilt also lies with the people who pay for, and thereby morally sanction, privacy invasion.
That people would be curious about a celebrity’s private life, especially that of the movie stars they adore or a real-life fairy-tale princess like Diana, is understandable. But what causes some to become so obsessed that they evade the celebrity’s right to privacy? Is their obsession a subconscious yearning to fill the emptiness within their own lives and souls? Furthermore, why, in Diana’s words, is the press so “ferocious” that it “forgives nothing and is only hunting down mistakes”? Does seeing celebrities with feet of clay make it easier to bear one’s own failure at making one’s own life meaningful, rich, happy?
Albeit fascinating psychological questions, they are not essential in determining moral blame. Regardless of their psychological motives, many people believe that their insatiable desire to know the private details of celebrities’ lives annuls the celebrities’ right to privacy. It is this wrong yet widespread belief that is morally responsible for Diana’s death.
Whoever commits or sanctions privacy invasion bears moral blame for Diana’s death. Law courts should uphold the right of individuals (including celebrities) to their privacy. In the meantime, we should morally condemn and boycott those who perpetrate and sanction privacy invasion. And not just the photographers, editors and customers, but also the professors and other intellectuals who spread the notion that it is okay to sacrifice individual rights — including the right to privacy — to the public’s needs and desires.
The moral and legal defense of the right to privacy won’t save Diana, but it could save others from similar senseless tragedies.