For the umpteenth time, venerated Ghanaian highlife artist, Kwabena Kwabena, made the news and it was not about his music, neither was it about his performance as an artist, but on his marital status.
The artist launched his 5th studio album last week, but news of his estranged wife besieging the venue of the event and presenting the artist with a court summon shrouded any other news item concerning the album release.
With Kwabena’s issue as case study, the subject of the media and its coverage of the private lives of celebrities, a theme that has been prevalent for such a longtime – was brought to the fore once again.
Some industry stakeholders and commentators chide the media, stating that, the craft of the artist should be the only news item that should be projected, and in that regard, all entertainers or celebrities.
Others, however, rebuff such a claim, insisting that, there’s nothing like ‘private life’ for any celebrity. Their argument is that, these celebrities are public figures and anything concerning their lives makes the news.
Public Figure = Public Property
The term “public figure” covers a relatively large spectrum of people who share the commonality of being widely known. This can range from those who play a recognizably important role in shaping society, such as politicians or CEOs, to celebrities who attract or court media attention; a public figure then could simply be described as a person who is known by a large mass of a given populous.
The most significant word in the term ‘Public Figure’ is Public, which means, the life of that entertainer/celebrity is played out to the public. The life of that figure is of high interest to the public, and the media, in its role not only as broadcaster but also as watchdog, claims that information about the private lives of such public figures should be published, as it is in the public interest, given the power they have.
Kwabena Kwabena’s life as a public figure is of interest to his fans, music lovers and every Ghanaian who feeds on the news. Everything outside the music concerns the fans and all other observers; what he wears, whom he hangs out with, what he does in his leisure time and what he eats, are newsworthy to the public.
The media is justified to make private lives of these celebrities public knowledge, provided the information is factual and legally obtained and celebrities need to realize that, to a certain extent – they are public property.
The Media and the Celebrity: A Symbiotic Relationship
There has always been a symbiotic relationship between celebrities and the media. One depends on the other for their existence. Celebrities need media exposure to remain celebrities. They are desperate to stay in the news. They need media attention to build their careers and in that situation, they are more than willing to let any news item concerning their lives be used by the media, so far as they make the news.
Intriguingly, these celebrities become conscious of their right to privacy only after they have established themselves in the industry. At that stage, however, they can’t expect the media, which fueled their growth, to stop writing about them.
Kwabena Kwabena, aside using the media to project everything concerning his music and brand, was all smiles when the media published the ceremonies of his two marriages. When stories and photos of the first marriage made the headlines, he offered no complaints – he loved it, but the moment the same media provided audience to cracks in the marriage, he flipped and even threatened to sue the media for publicizing his marriage troubles.
But wait, there’s more!
The same Kwabena Kwabena was joyous when news and pictures of his second marriage were splattered in the newspapers and on various portals, but here he is – seething over the media’s publication of the tumultuous marriage.
The Public Demand For Celebrity News
We are living in a celebrity-obsessed world where everything that famous people do or say makes headlines. If media publishes stories about the private lives of the rich and the famous, that is because, there is an audience for them.
People want to know what celebrities do, say, wear, eat and drink. Media merely satisfies this need because it makes sound business sense for them. The incessant need of the public to know what every celebrity is doing is phenomenal.
The public plays a huge part in the privacy debate, thanks to the rise in gossip columns and magazines whose readership depends on an appetite for celebrity news and scandals.
Interestingly, contrary to the declaration that, the media should feed the consumer with only the news relating to the music, the consumers are also very interested in what transpires in the private life of the celebrity.
The reality check is; news on song/album releases, awards and stage performances are classified as routine and mundane by the same consumer, thus, such reportage gets low ratings. On the flip side, news on whom a celebrity is getting married to, or sleeping with is of high interest to the same consumer. A report on how many kids a celebrity is having or has had is of importance to the fan. Such news gets the most clicks and eyeballs and garner the highest ratings.
Celebrities Must Have Control Over Their Privacy
Yes, celebrities are public figures but it is still possible for them to have a private life and shield it. What they ought to do, by keeping a delicate balance between the needs of promoting what they have to professionally – and most importantly, how they conduct your lives.
Nobody is infallible – these celebrities are humans, with flaws and shortcomings just like anybody else, but a story on the marriage or sexual life of one Kojo Gyimah, a banker in Abeka Lapaz, would not make the news and will be of less interest to the public, but that of Kwabena Kwabena will, surely! The fact is; some people get some weird pleasure from knowing that these famous men and women that they admire are not perfect.
With the knowledge that, it is permissible for the media to publish news on the private lives of these celebrities, it is important for them (celebs) to have a PR unit to protect the brand in such situations. The biggest part of the PR business is protecting the image of the celebrity, not just promotion of the works.
If, as a famous person, you are in the habit of doing things which would make you ashamed if they were more widely known, then you have a clear choice between changing your habits, changing your attitude to them or retreating from the public stage, however, it would be unreasonable for any celebrity to expect the entire structure of a free press to be dismantled in order to accommodate his/her foibles.
Arnold Asamoah-Baidoo, www.entertainmentgh.com