First Daughter's Marriage vs. Public Figure Privacy Rights
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 13, 2013
Summary: A wedding is a happy event. It is a major event in a person's life. President Ma's daughter Ma Wei-chung is getting married. But because the First Family was too low-keyed, something that was good and simple has become part of a farcical Blue vs. Green war of words. The Office of the President remained silent for 48 hours, after which it officially confirmed earlier rumors. It informed the public who the the president's son-in-law was. It called on the public to allow the young couple to retain their privacy.
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A wedding is a happy event. It is a major event in a person's life. President Ma's daughter Ma Wei-chung is getting married. But because the First Family was too low-keyed, something that was good and simple has become part of a farcical Blue vs. Green war of words. The Office of the President remained silent for 48 hours, after which it officially confirmed earlier rumors. It informed the public who the the president's son-in-law was. It called on the public to allow the young couple to retain their privacy.
President Ma has long respected women's rights. He probably felt helpless. He should be the one to give away his daughter's hand in marriage. But the best he can do is meet with family members at the ZTE apartments. He hopes his daughter's private life will not be disturbed because of his status. Family members, close friends and relatives were afraid even to announce the happy news. But President Ma's background is in the law. He should realize that as a head of state and a public figure, his right to privacy is limited. Invasions of privacy are certain to impact family members. Even though his daughter is an adult, her marriage will be considered fair game. He cannot change this reality.
Privacy is not one of the expressly enumerated powers in our constitution. But Grand Justices Legal Interpretation No.585 explicitly recognizes the right to human dignity, individual sovereignty, and personal space. Therefore privacy is an essential and basic human right, subject to the protection of Article 22 of the constitution. In recent years, it has included the "Personal Data Protection Act" and other more inclusive acts. These specify in great detail the definition of privacy. Basically, personal matters that have nothing to do with the public interest may are off limits. But public figures who have received public or media attention, enjoy less protection of their right to privacy. For example, the public is interested in performing artists. Politicians in particular, whether elected representatives or political appointees, may have conflicts of interest or special interests. Otherwise, they would not have to declare their property, and even publicize their medical condition.
An elected president voluntarily becomes a public figure. Even his daily itinerary cannot be kept secret. Ma Ying-jeou cannot complain about this. But Ma Wei-chung is not someone who voluntarily became a public figure. Her father was elected president. She had no say in this. Yet it led to her becoming the focus of media attention. Her ability to avoid such attention is limited. The best example of this is the former First Family during the Chen Shui-bian administration. Chen Chih-chung and Chen Hsing-yu's weddings were national events. Chen's son-in-law and daughter-in-law were placed under the microscope, for all to see. Former President Chen Shui-bian used his family for PR purposes. As a result, Chen family members often lost control of their emotions in front of the media. Although regrettable, little can be done about this.
In the wake of the former First Family's antics, the vast majority of people approve of President Ma's low-key approach. But this does not change the fact that during his term of office, President Ma Ying-jeou's family is the First Family. The national government's security system cannot draw distinctions between First Family members based on their personal integrity. The president's family and relatives must be subject to oversight. Only this will prevent possible conflicts of interest. This principle applied to the Chen family. It applies to the Ma family as well. The First Daughter's wedding being kept secret invites wild speculation.
The DPP has argued that her wedding is a national security issue. That takes it too far. But the DPP is not entirely without justification. Especially since the couple will not to return to Taiwan or the United States, but instead settle in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is under the control of Mainland China. It is the most sensitive region for cross-Strait intelligence gathering. It is a headache for the NSB, for good reason. Under current law, once Ma Wei-chung is married, the NSB need no longer provide her with bodyguards. But the young couple must still remain under the watchful eye of the NSB. In the event of problems, the National Security Bureau will be the first to know. In their absence, the NSB, a credible government agency charged with national security, will be able to testify to that effect.
Some people have criticized President Ma and his wife for not participating in the wedding ceremony. Such criticisms are pointless. Civil ceremonies should be encouraged. The couple works in the United States. Their marriage license was obtained abroad. It was perfectly logical for the elders to respect these young peoples' right to plan their own wedding. This is consistent with modern concepts of progressive thought. The elders are not interfering with the young couple's wedding decisions. What right do outsiders have to meddle? That said, Ma Wei-chung must understand that her father is a head of state. Her marriage is not just a private matter or family matter. The couple have freedom of choice. But for the next three years, their character, their occupations, even their friendships will be topics of discussion. These matters affect the image of the First Family. The First Family is to a considerable extent, a symbol of the nation.
It is difficult to establish rigid legal standards of privacy for public figures. But there ought to be some standards. For example, what does the President do in his apartment after work? That ought to be considered part of the president's private life. But what the president does in his apartment during natural or man-made disasters, or other major events, is not part of the president's private life. President Ma Ying-jeou has the peoples' trust. Therefore he cannot simply refuse to discuss his wife or his daughters. As the saying goes, "If one cannot put a single room in order, how can one put a nation and the world in order?" If one's family has happy news, what reason is there to prevent the public from offering its blessings?