Thursday, 7 July 2011

To gag or not to gag?

The sex tales of midfielder Ryan Giggs and his playmates have provided gripping gossip for many of us over the past few weeks; but the case has also conveniently exposed the flaws surrounding super-injunctions, which immorally appear on the menu of rich male celebrities, who obtain them under the pretence of human rights violation. 

Far from violating his human rights, the revelation of Giggs’s extramarital affairs has simply made public something that has already began to destroy the life of his family, including his wife and brother, who have been left devastated.

Super-injunctions, which were historically granted when an individual was under threat of physical danger, seem to be no longer worth the paper they are written on. The High Court’s callous interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights means that super-injunctions are granted increasingly on the grounds of wealth, and it is this contention which newspapers find themselves at the very heart of. According to WikiLeaks The Guardian was served with 10 super-injunctions between January and September 2009. In the year before it was issued with six, and in 2007, five. 

 In reality this self-serving and dishonest practice enables individuals to protect nothing other than multimillion pound marketing deals or their own already tarnished reputations. In the grand scheme of things, publicising such news does not exacerbate the situation when fun on the side has already been had. And in view of this, Giggs’ lawyers pursuit of Twitter users who revealed his affair with Imogen Thomas is unnecessary and foolish. Social media users should continue to enjoy the freedom to post information online instead of being penalised for revealing acts that would have made it onto the front pages regardless.

More importantly the irresponsible issue of super-injunctions can be very dangerous as the sordid details of Trafigura’s oil-for-food scandal illustrates. The oil trading giant sought and won a super-injunction against The Guardian in 2009 as the paper sought to publish details of a report on the oil company’s dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast.  But the implications of this go far beyond the issues of freedom of speech and privacy. Had Trafigura upheld the case, their solicitors, Carter- Ruck, would have effectively been holding parliament to contempt. This has very serious implications, namely undermining parliamentary privilege. Not to mention, this desire for censorship would have robbed the public of information they had the right to read about. And thus Alan Rusbridger’s, editor of The Guardian, reaction to the case as “draconian and absolute” is completely understandable. 

However the media themselves are no better in all of this. Their desire to overturn super-injunctions is mainly to do with boosting readership, as opposed to public interest.  It is very clear that the tabloids themselves have issued an ‘informal super- injunction’ in regards to The News of the World phone hacking scandal. Depending on what newspapers you read, you may not have heard about the phone bugging of prominent figures and members of public alike. This makes it very clear that the press continue to refer to the term ‘public interest’ as and when it suits them. Yet they are keen to hide private details of phone hacking scandals which directly involve members of the public.

Indeed The Sun’s desire to publish details about the extramarital affair of Royal Bank of Scotland CEO, Sir Fred Goodwin, under the pretence that the affair had a part to play in the taxpayer bailout of the bank, is an example that the notion of public opinion has been turned on its head.  But it is a little difficult to conclude what is more humiliating, The Sun’s conduct or that of the senior judge who agreed that the name of Goodwin’s mistress should be kept private after the disgraced CEO admitted to having an affair.

The press’s preoccupation to expose the salacious stories of public figures private lives; has conveniently demonstrated that High Court judges and legal officials should not be allowed to issue super-injunctions by means of personal wealth, or by using the pretext of human rights violation. It seems as though, the power to influence and change the current situation lies with the press, as to whether they use this power responsibly is crucial to future revelations.