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Scarlett Nation » Press Freedom » Is it a bird…is it a plane…no, it’s SUPERINJUNCTION!

Is it a bird…is it a plane…no, it’s SUPERINJUNCTION!

Last year the world was saddened by the news that Tyler Clementi had jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommates secretly filmed him having sex with another man. Almost instantly the world condemned the voyeurs – journalists, TV personalities and the Twitterati all fell over themselves to say how unspeakable it was. How could they be so callous, so thoughtless and cruel, as to humiliate and degrade this person for nothing more than their own amusement? Lock them up and throw away the key. Charge them with murder. Out of interest, are these the same journalists now throwing their rattle out of the pram because they’re not allowed to report what sex toys a television personality sticks where?

For the record, I don’t like super injunctions. They’re a ridiculous way to regulate the press and an unfair method for ensuring privacy. I do, however, agree that most of these details should never have been published in the first place. And before you get all self righteous and start talking in your Watergate tone about freedom of the press, let’s keep in mind that we’re not talking about the brave exposure of government corruption here, we’re walking about whether the guy from Ballikiss Angel takes it up the arse. We’re not discussing matters in the public interest, we’re talking about matters that the public are interested in, and there is a difference.

Let’s say a premiership footballer is having an extra marital affair, or a soap star has some compromising photos’ of her taken in the nude. Why, exactly, is it more important, more correct or more defensible to print these details and images of those celebrities than it would if it were you? Well, some may argue, they were asking for it. Of course, they haven’t actually asked for it. They’re more ‘asking for it’ in the way that you’re ‘asking’ to be sexually harassed if you wear something revealing. Which is to say, if enough people behave badly, to the point where one might reasonably predict it, then their behaviour is no longer to blame and it’s your failure to circumvent it that is now the problem. Celebrities have been stalked forever, ergo they know they’ll be stalked, ergo if they don’t want to be stalked they don’t have to become famous and therefore their decision to do counts as permission. In the same way that, once apon a time, it was so obvious that a black man would be lynched for dating a white women that it was actually his fault for kissing her. He should have known better, if he didn’t want to get beaten up he shouldn’t have been with that girl. And if you don’t want deeply personal details and images of yourself in your most intimate moments to be shown to millions of people, you shouldn’t be interested in acting. It’s clearly a reasonable cost, right?

Then there is the idea that there should be a cost. The idea that someone who has that much money and that much fun for so little work irritates us. I remember this feeling from when I was at primary school, and I also remember even then begin a little bit embarrassed to have thrown a fit about it. Heads up, your job will be no less boring and your pay no less crap simply because you’ve tarnished someone else’s experience. I can’t decide to punish bankers, or entrepreneurs, or heiresses simply because ‘there has to be some down side’ because I’m not responsible for seeing to it that there is. It’s a nonsense argument.

Then there are those that argue ‘well, they don’t mind the press intrusion when it’s in their favour’. As if they’re in a relationship with the Press and they never give head. The press aren’t doing them a favour – the press are never doing them a favour. No newspaper, anywhere, ever, has decided that a celebrity WON’T sell copies but included them anyway out of niceness. What actually happens is that journalists go along to press calls because it’s in their interest, and because it’s their job. And as you’ve done this reasonable thing, to both of our benefits, it stands to reason that you would let me take that as far as it will go. You’ve let me see your professional wedding photos, ergo that means I can take pictures of you naked on your honeymoon using a long lens camera. You’ve given me banking advice in your role at the bank, it makes sense that I can wake you up in the middle of the night for mortgage information….

And then there is the argument that we somehow have a right to know. We have a right to know whether Tiger Woods is sleeping about because I have a right to know if I’m buying my Nike shoes from an adulterer. I don’t know why I don’t equally have the right not to bank with an adulterer, or buy my bread from an adulterer. I don’t know why the person who teaches my children, or nurses my grandfather, or pays my own wages, should expect less scrutiny from me than someone who entertains me on Saturday night ITV. So this guy is making it rich off a possibly inaccurate reputation as a dedicated family man. What if Doctor is handing out NHS leaflets on safe sex and is himself going to private sex clubs, can I announce that? My teacher says I can’t drink to excess, but I found a picture of her drunk when she was at uni, can I expose that? Can I take you at your word and expose any detail of your private life that I believe contravenes it? No?

And if none of the above arguments make sense, then what is the justification? What separates the journalists openly arguing for free speech from the college students watching Tyler Clementi on a laptop….?

Nothing.

The reason we look at celebrity sex tapes is the same reason we stole a girl’s diary and read it aloud at school. Because we’re interested and nosey and want to know the details more than we care about her feelings. We think it’s tragic that this cost a boy his life, but what we’ve done to the soap star is no more or less horrendous because she does or doesn’t top herself. Just it won’t be any more or less horrendous if it happens to another student, simply because that student ‘should have known it might happen’. And I think it’s time we looked at ourselves, because we are those people. We are the bitchy girl at school. We are the bully with a webcam. In fact we’re worse. Because like all teenagers who get caught doing something, our first reaction has been one of blind and ridiculous defence, as if anything we say or do contracts the following:
You have a right to stick whatever you want up your arse in private, even if you do act for a living.

Surely?

Written by

Co-founder and contributor to Scarlett Nation.

Filed under: Press Freedom · Tags: , ,

  • http://twitter.com/RobotTory Myles Nester

    @girlsteve is right, basically.

    Complete freedom of speech is a myth, it has to be constrained by a responsible attitude that understands its purpose. Freedom of speech doesn’t exist for its own sake, its a tool to allow the open exchange of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. When it is misused, when people publish things just to offend, intrude or mock it harms us, it makes us a more closed society, a more divided society, and it allows us to ignore bigger issues.

    I don’t want to live in a society that publishes images of Mohammed just to incite a reaction from Muslims, or reveals the sexual habits of stars just so others can point and laugh. To put it another way, I shouldn’t have the right to say the word ‘Cunt’ on children’s television. I should be responsible enough to understand the acceptable limits of what can or cannot be said and if I keep say offensive or humiliating things I should be stopped and constrained.

    Superinjunctions are a mess and I would prefer a privacy law, however I see nothing wrong with people attaining them if they want to keep private information out of the public eye. Especially if the alternative is the drawn out ridicule, embarassment and expense that Max Mosley has suffered as a result of a story that should never have seen the light of day.

    If there was any doubt as to the value of a privacy law, just ask Pippa Middleton, a young woman whose only ‘crime’ is to be related to Prince William’s wife but who had to endure the readership of the News of the World seeing her naked for no other reason than there is a facebook group dedicated to her good looks. Don’t tell me the NOTW is interested in journalistic integrity or freedom of speech, its about flogging papers off the back of other’s humiliation.

    Ultimately the cost of a truly free press is a bad press. Allow Fleet Street to report on anything and expect to get flooded in sex scandals and phone hackers. They should be ashamed for selling and we should be ashamed for buying.

  • http://twitter.com/jasonmaude Jason Maude

    I agree with the main thrust of the article. For me the interesting question is the one about reasonable expectations of crime or people being unpleasant or objectionable. Should we be able to expect that no-one will behave badly to us? I am uneasy about the idea of saying that people should be encouraged to act with no reference to other people’s possible responses to their actions. I’m not sure why though. What is certainly true is that the world currently doesn’t work like that and any attempt to change out of this mode of thinking would be difficult, not that that should put us off doing it if it’s the right thing to do.

  • Martin

    Couple of things:

    1) This argument is presumably directed specifically at individuals in the public eye – I am assuming that the original injunction story (Trafigura and their awkward toxic waste) still stands as being in the public interest and therefore a misuse of the legal protection.

    2) Following on from that (and playing devil’s advocate): “So this guy is making it rich off a possibly inaccurate reputation as a
    dedicated family man. What if Doctor is handing out NHS leaflets on safe
    sex and is himself going to private sex clubs, can I announce that?” – What about someone who presents (or even actively preaches) a particular moral position? If your local homophobic priest turns out to be seeing a rent boy, is there a public interest in revealing them to be srcutinised by there own morality?

    • http://twitter.com/RobotTory Myles Nester

      But, the fact that appears to have been lost in the Trafigura superinjunction scandal is that the BBC were wrong and the facts they reported were incorrect.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8417913.stm

      But, who remembers that? Barely anyone because the original accusation still carries weight. The point Max Mosley was making is that no apology can completely undo the damage caused by the original article and its similarly the case here, made worse by the fact that the company, in trying to protect its reputation from lies became a byword for corporate corruption of the superinjuntion. That issue is not necessarilly the same, thats more about the need for better enforcement of the rules regarding printing apologies with the same prominence as the original story. BUT it does show that the judge was not stupid in that case.

      On the second example, I always find that a really risky area. It is easy to believe in standards that you fail to live up to, that doesn’t seem particularly newsworthy to me. The homophobic priest can still be homophobic and gay, studies have shown that men professing homophobic attitudes are often aroused by sexually explicit homosexual images. Furthermore being a hypocrite doesn’t make you wrong, it just adds to the yah Boo style of politics. What he should be criticised or praised for is his views, and if all reporters can do is attack the man not the argument maybe they need to think about what side they’re on.

    • http://scarlettnation.co.uk Janvier

      What should be highlighted is that hypocrisy isn’t a crime. It’s something that people hate, but there’s nothing illegal about being a hypocrite. It should therefore be irrelevant if I am smoking whilst telling people it’s bad to smoke – my actions do not make smoking any less bad.

      There is interest in the character of the individual, but it isn’t necessarily in the public interest and to imply that a person’s character has an impact on the validity of the position that person holds isn’t right. We should be able to separate a person from what they say. It shouldn’t really matter if Tiger Woods is an adulterer, it doesn’t make Nike trainers any better or worse than if he were faithful to his wife.

      Then again, who said humans were rational creatures? Nobody likes a hypocrite. How far does one go in law to stop things that we don’t like?

  • http://twitter.com/RobotTory Myles Nester

     Couple of interesting things from today’s judgement re: Imogen Thomas. 

    Justice Eady pretty much sidestepped whether publication on Twitter meant the injunction had been broken, he implied that it was only to a small percentage of the people who would find out following publication in The Sun newspaper. He also said that no public interest argument was possible in the case of ‘Kiss and Tell’ stories. That does seem to fly in the face of the earlier Supreme Court ruling in respect of A v B & C
    [2002] EWCA Civ 337 (11th March, 2002) where the judge stated that a premiership footballer’s personal life was in the public’s interest if he was lying etc. Similarly it seemed to reject A vs. B and C in that it implied that all relationships no matter how brief and physical contain an expectation of confidentiality. I don’t fully understand how these things work but it shows to me at least that more work needs to be done, probably through statute law, to unify and codify the judgements concerning privacy. 

    I still see no reason why the details of the affair should be made public, and the imbalance of one name being published and one not appears to be because Imogen Thomas went to a newspaper to sell her story. I still don’t fully understand the mass clamour for these injunctions to be breached. To my mind it is reasonable that some things can be printed and some things cannot and I am happy to drawn the line at the entirely private life of a public figure.