Thursday, 2 June 2011

Big Brother's Big Mouth: In the wake of the SuperInjunction scandal

THE relationship shared by celebrities and journalists has always been a tempestuous one but 2011 has seen more than enough tension between the two camps. Hot on the heels of Wikileaks and the phone-hacking scandal comes a new set of dramas surrounding the now ubiquitous super-injunction.

Within the last few weeks, we’ve seen the courts severely tested by the morals involved in approving these pieces of legislation that deny the press from reporting an individual’s private affairs. We’ve seen our freedom of speech restricted and national press manipulated. And for what? For the sake of protecting the identity of a high-profile public figure.

It should be asked why, and even how, certain people are permitted certain privileges above others. These injunctions are a valuable coup for the figures that obtain them and enable the retention of lucrative sponsorship deals, not to mention the prevention of public humiliation for themselves and their families. It would seem that super-injunctions are yet another tool that, whilst they do have their alternative functions, are designed to protect the fortunes and reputations of philandering males for whom one partner is not quite enough. The saga which has now unfolded around Ryan Giggs, Imogen Thomas and John Hemming, the MP who used parliamentary privilege to name the married footballer in the House of Commons, is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Ryan Giggs

Imogen Thomas

But are these injunctions defensible? The furore that has emerged since the outing of Giggs would suggest that these are debatable issues. Predictably, more and more polygamous men are coming out of the woodwork to defend celebrities’ rights to legal privacy. None other than Hugh Grant entered the row arguing that private matters should remain private matters regardless of the individual’s public status. He appeared to forget that it was the publication of Ryan Giggs’s private matters that gave him the image of being a likeable family man in the first place, something that has made Giggs millions in sponsorship deals in addition to his footballer’s salary. Would Giggs have sought an injunction giving him complete privacy, making both positive and negative press illegal? Of course not. This is a gross abuse of public trust which leaves the press subject to enforced bias, as demonstrated with aplomb by the Daily Mail, who published a family-friendly story on Giggs the day before he was confirmed as the adulterous footballer in question.

However, whilst the super-injunctions saga involving numerous actors, TV personalities and footballers has proved to be fantastic fodder for the countries’ gossip columns, people are beginning to understand the wider implications that this case has brought to light. Over the weekend we learnt that a banker named Giggs on Twitter no less than six hours after his injunction was awarded. Following another 75,000 tweets about the footballer, legal and policing authorities are beginning to wonder how on earth they are to go about bringing so many supposed law-breakers to justice. Twitter has been a global community and unofficial news wire for those in the know for a while, but it took a case of this magnitude and with this unprecedented level of public interest to reveal the power of engaged Twitter users. It would seem that Twitter and its collective users have single-handedly undermined the justice system. Are the ordinary public now above the law?

John Hemming MP


In an increasing number of cases, the answer has to be ‘yes’. Twitter has 200 million registered accounts worldwide, and adds 460,000 to that number daily. Critics embroiled in the row over super-injunctions have unashamedly pronounced that it is near impossible to bring individual Twitter users to justice, let alone stop them revealing the guilty information in the first place. In many ways, the courts should be thankful that, despite the sinister and downright outrageous actions that celebrities have sought to cover, the power of Twitter as a subversive threat to the law has been unmasked through such relatively trivial cases. Concerns are now arising for what could come next, and how to prevent it. What is to stop people naming rape victims, publicising information about those under the witness protection system and ultimately prejudicing juries? Can a trial ever be considered ‘fair’?

One can be reasonably sure that whilst Giggs and Thomas were holed up in a hotel enacting one of their many sordid encounters, they didn’t even consider their families, let alone the idea that they were sowing the seeds of one of the biggest debates on global privacy, freedom of speech and justice that we have seen for many years. Of what the future holds, nobody can be certain. It took an issue of such moral outrage to expose just how individuals can and will wield power to correct what they see as the injustices in our modern world. This Pandora’s box of questions must be brought under control, because what the righteous public may choose to do next is anyone’s guess.

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