Saturday, 21 May 2011

Privacy vs Public Interest - Ryan Giggs vs Imogen Thomas

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Arguments continue to rage about whether super-injunctions should be allowed to protect any form of reporting about certain issues (including the fact an injunction even exits). It seems that the debate is polarised and causes immense passion on both sides. Sometimes super injunctions are needed to protect people from the worst excesses of the media. On the other hand, some of those super injunctions are designed by the rich to buy them greater legal protection than is available to the vast majority and there is not a sufficient reason to justify imposing such sweeping censorship.
Imogen Thomas, PA
Imogen Thomas is unable to comment due to the court order
Lately,  Ryan Giggs has allegedly secured a super injunction to stop any mention of an affair with Imogen Thomas. Yet Twitter users have apparently ignored the injunction and made a mockery of the courts and the system of super injunctions by naming him. We will wait and see if Giggs denies the allegations. If he does, then his name has been badly smeared. The worry is that it is left to the users of social media to push back against over zealous courts in an erratic, unregulated manner. Jemima Khan was left furiously denying any affair with Jeremy Clarkson after being falsely named on Twitter.
Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs has allegedly secured a super injunction against Imogen Thomas
For those that argue that anyone in the public eye should be open to any form of press scrutiny, I can see the logic of their puritanical (if simplistic) argument but it would allow anyone even forced into the public domain, such as a rape victim, to have to put up with paparazzi photographs. That would be grotesque and outrageous. So after that simplistic argument, the question is where do you draw the line before you reach the other end of the spectrum with press censorship by the rich and the powerful?

Hugh Grant has taken a tough stance against press intrusion
Hugh Grant takes a view that if his job requires certain publicity such as attending a film premiere that should not give the automatic right to the press to be able to route through his bins and lie in wait outside his house or when he goes shopping. That sounds reasonable. Likewise, just because someone walks down the street and is photographed with their children, does not mean that they have necessarily invited the photographers to come and take their photo (although some celebrities and their agents apparently tip off the press on their whereabouts specifically so they can appear in magazines such as OK! and Hello).
John Terry took out a super injunction in 2010
However, the use of super injunctions does cause real concern. There is little doubt that only those who are rich and famous can afford to go to court and seek such overbearing and prescriptive orders. The argument that they are the only kinds of people who need them and Mrs Smith from Burnley who is a clerk in an office would never need one, is not the point. Mrs Smith should not be told that some parts of the law are off limits and that she had better pray that she doesn’t need to get a super injunction because she can’t afford one, is a dangerous precedent for a law that should be blind to who you are and the size of your wallet or purse. No, it would be better that parliament set the rules on privacy vs public interest rather than judges listening to super rich lawyers earning six figure salaries on behalf of rich people earning seven or eight figure salaries.
Yet, Lord Neuberger's recent report on this issue seems to conclude that parliamentarians should be gagged by taking away their privilege to report any such injunction in parliament. That is a scary statement from a senior judge who is Master of the Rolls. MPs rarely use such privilege and understand the responsibility of using it. However, the fact a judge wishes to stop MPs openly challenging the courts demonstrates that it is the courts that need to be reminded that it is parliament who is the sovereign body in this country and not judges.
An unprecedented attack on Parliamentary privilege: Lord Neuberger would gag MPs and peers
Lord Neuberger wants to gag MPs in parliament
Some will argue that there should be no right to telling the press what they can and cannot print given that sometimes individuals invite the press into their private lives and then five minutes later complain bitterly that they do not want to be photographed or door stepped. Well frankly, why not? Just because I agree to shop in Sainsbury’s one week should not force me to go next week. My ‘contract’ is in fact a freedom to choose who I do business with. Therefore, there should be a respect for when it is agreeable for the press to arrive to take photographs and when they are not welcome.
Andrew Marr
The BBC's Andrew Marr was embarrassed by taking out an injunction
I have suffered first hand from a journalist screaming abuse at my young son through my letterbox threatening to print a story if he didn’t go and persuade his daddy to come to the door. I have seen the belligerent tactics of a press who have not a care in the world for family members. As an MP, I even had one heated conversation with a regional newspaper editor who said, “your wife is public property and I’ll print what I like about her”. A charming man. On other occasions I have endured a journalist from the News of the World repeatedly ringing a family member posing as a policeman from “Belgravia Police Station” and saying I was involved in a car accident and he urgently needed my address. Of course, I had not been involved in any accident and the 'policeman' upon checking, did not exist. Another time a journalist posed as my sister and rang up the hospital where a family member was seriously ill, to try and get medical information. Fortunately, a sharp minded nurse gave the woman short shrift.
There are some members of the press who know no bounds of living in the gutter to get any information that they can use. They will twist around information to talk up to sound like a thriller story that will grip readers, regardless of facts. The trail of havoc though that they lead behind them, lasts forever. Would I have taken out a super injunction to protect my family in those circumstances and I had the money? Yes, in a heartbeat. But the injunction would be based on stopping photographs of my children appearing in the press, untrue liaisons with other women or medical details of my family. The problem lies in the way the press will gossip, smear and use innuendo which is not in the public interest. The rules are grey and unenforceable and every case is unique. That is where clarification is needed to cut through to say, "Is this story really in the public interest?".
For those in the public eye being scrutinised under genuine public interest (and not because it is interesting to the public) then the rules are different. If a politician has defrauded the taxpayer then it is reasonable to investigate them and ask them for comment and take their photograph. If an actor stars as a policeman on TV and makes his name and fortune in a role that is demonstrating he is a law enforcer, then it seems perfectly reasonable to highlight the fact he was caught speeding in a car. If a footballer who makes money from his family image and pretends to be happily married and yet has a six month affair, then yes it is right the press explains to the public that he is misleading them.
However, in each of those cases, I fear for the impact on the families of those individuals who are innocent victims. They will pay for the rest of their lives for the mistakes of the individuals and perhaps the tenacity of the media.
For the record, I think most journalists in the UK are respectable, reputable professionals who are a true asset to our democracy. Unfortunately there is a small minority who are truly undesirable individuals who need to be reined in.
The problem is that some in the media sometimes don’t just push against the boundaries of decent behaviour or slightly bend the rules in pursuit of a public interest agenda, they sometimes utterly disregard them and have no problem in wreaking people’s lives in order to get a story that will improve ratings on TV or sell more newspapers. It is the recklessness that some wish to curtail and given the repeated number of times some in the media over step the mark, a voluntary system of enforcement is worthless.
David Cameron needs to come up with new legislation on the boundaries for protecting privacy
The Government should look at now designing a sensible system of legislation that gets the balance right. Otherwise, more injunctions will be taken out by the rich and they will be able to protect more than their privacy and no doubt use the legal tactics to prevent the public finding out wrong doing. The leaking and breaches of court injunctions seem the only defence against the onerous court orders and yet it should be the responsibility of parliament to take action rather than those using social media. With rich footballers now hounding Twitter to reveal user information to pursue individuals that breach injunctions, this argument will continue to rage until the Government stops ducking the issue and takes action. The current situation is an utter mess and it will only spiral further out of control with even more zealous courts and social media users determined to name and shame regardless of the consequences. David Cameron needs to get off the sidelines and bring forward new legislation that sets out the red lines of where privacy should be protected.

3 comments:

  1. A very interesting read !!!
    Having named a certain footballer are you in breach of this silly super injunction which has become a total farce.
    I reserve the right to remain anonymous as I enjoy paying my UK taxes and do not wish to become a burden on Joe public by being incarcerated for a year or two for spilling the beans on a certain footballing star.

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  2. Thank you !
    My post is a mere speculation on an allegation around an injunction.
    If Giggs denies the allegation I shall happily note it on my post.
    Best wishes.
    Paul

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  3. Didn't the source of the injuction render it null and void by having his lawyers seek to obtain information from Twitter concerning posts that named Ryan Giggs in combination with Ms. Thomas? This act revealed his identify to the world.

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