Monday 25 April 2011

Nothing super about the super - injunction

Newsflash! Premier League footballer has an affair with topless model. How many times have we heard that revelation?

This is what we've heard this week, but were not allowed to know who it is because there's a gagging order or super injunction in place. I think I know who it is, although I admit I'm not 100% sure.

You might remember last year the footballer John Terry took one out to prevent reports that he'd allegedly had an affair with the former girlfriend of his ex team mate Wayne Bridge.

The issue that's emerged this week is whether super injunctions pose a threat to press freedom and are they just a way of the rich and famous silencing legitimate press investigation?

From the reports I've seen and read, I'm not convinced they're in the public interest.

The rise of the super injunction began a few years. Originally the media couldn't even report that an injunction existed, let alone the details of the injunctions.

Things have changed since then - injunctions can be reported, individuals involved can be identified, all except those people responsible for taking out the injunction. This usually means those who are rich, famous and powerful enough to do so.

Naturally I'm inclined to be against super injunctions - potentially they do pose a threat to investigative journalism and press freedom.

I have however been looking at the other side of the argument. In recent cases, Judges have ruled in favour of injunctions to protect the privacy rights of individuals.

Everyone's got a right to a private life and just because someone's having affair it doesn't mean the whole world has to know about it, but I don't think it's right that the rich and famous should take advantage of privacy laws to cover up their own misdemeanors.

Last Thursday I was reading the Spanish sports paper MARCA. They claim the footballer at the centre of the allegations is Jermaine Defoe. I doubt that's right - the player in question is meant to be a 'family man'. Jermaine Defoe isn't married.

I've now been reliably informed that it's a Man Utd player, but as I have no money to fight any legal cases I'm not prepared to reveal who it is.

I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for celebrities and sports stars who claim press intrusion into their private lives as as result of their own indiscretions. I doesn’t really mean a great deal if one footballer or another is having an affair.

I do however think there is a public interest in exposing someone’s private life, if their private conduct undermines their public position.

Sports stars like John Terry and Tiger Woods tried to stop the media knowing about their sexual affairs, but they were fair game. They made money and profited from endorsements based upon their image of being family men. The fact their private lives contradicted this means it was legitimate for the media to expose them.

When it comes to the rights and wrongs of super injunctions we shouldn't let the debate be overshadowed by the trivial issues of footballers having affairs.

It's right that the press and other people complain about press restrictions imposed by super injunctions, but we should be looking at bigger and more significant issues at stake then the usual tabloid 'kiss and tell' stories.

It might not be quite as exciting, but if you have major companies, multinationals and other powerful figures using super injunctions to cover things up and prevent legitimate investigate journalism taking place into their business practices then that's something to worry about.

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