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There have been some pretty loud rumblings in the UK over so-called “superinjunctions” taken out by various public figures/celebrities/footballers with more money than sense – and it’s come forcefully into the fore after a Twitter account was created with the aim of allegedly revealing gag orders taken out by celebs. Whether or not these claims are true is largely irrelevant to this blog (although Jemima Khan has protested, strongly, against claims that she had taken out an injunction) – but it does stir up the debate over whether or not these superinjunctions should exist at all.
To kick off with – a superinjunction is basically a gag order on steroids. The media aren’t even allowed to report that an injunction had been granted to an individual. Sure, they can (and do) hint until they’re blue in the face, but this Twitter account is a way to just show one finger to the courts and the spoiled celebs in the UK.
It’s an ongoing debate.
The most recent fuss was kicked up by BBC journo Andrew Marr, who admitted to having taken out a superinjunction in 2008 to conceal an affair with a fellow journalist. After a DNA test revealed that he was not the father of the journo’s baby, he came clean on his superinjunction, saying “I did not come into journalism to go around gagging journalists. Am I embarrassed by it? Yes. Am I uneasy about it? Yes. But at the time there was a crisis in my marriage and I believed there was a young child involved. I also had my own family to think about, and I believed this story was nobody else’s business.”
Marr claimed that his decision to go public was motivated by fears that the orders were “running out of control” – and even Prime Minister David Cameron has said that he’s uncertain about some of the injunctions. He said last month that judges were using these injunctions – which are intended to protect human rights and restore the status quo ante – “to deliver a sort of privacy law”.
So essentially, these superinjunctions are used by “public figures” to hide their dirty laundry. These superinjunctions, which have their beginnings in the UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act, have now creeped into a privacy law for the rich and wealthy. They’ve been applied in cases of extra-marital affairs, dalliances with prostitutes and scandalous photographs. Allegedly.
It’s an age-old argument – how much of a celebs’ most intimate life is available for perusal by the masses? Should we even know whether or not a footballer had an affair with an actress? Should we care? Is it even any of our business? Well, people do care – it’s what pays my salary, and I’m eternally grateful for that. Is it any of our business? Well, yes and no.
Build and break a brand
See, hypothetically, if a sportsman builds up his entire persona on being a dependable, loyal family man (like Tiger Woods) and it turns out that he’s actually a serial womaniser who has had dozens and dozens of affairs – it’s in the public interest. Why? His entire brand, the products he endorses that we buy into – all of those things are based on our perception of him. And so we saw, in the wake of Tiger Woods being revealed as a sex-addled maniac, millions of dollars of endorsements and campaigns being withdrawn. The same goes for other professional sportsmen, actors, journalists and the like who, whether they care to be or not, are role models for millions of people across the world. Their brand makes them money. If they’re targeted as a “bad influence” then they lose money. And so, skeletons get swept into the closet with the help of the UK courts.
And so, a law that exists for one reason – to protect people’s human rights – is being twisted to fit the needs of a few people with a lot of financial clout and time to wing it in court in order to hide their dirty little secrets. If you’re in the public eye, you need to deal with your own crap – in the public eye, I’m afraid. If you cheat on your husband, you should be prepared to face up to the public criticism.
Should celebrities be allowed to take out superinjunctions against whomever they please? In my opinion, not unless it’s a) a life-or-death situation or b) somebody will suffer actual harm from it (the emotional trauma of being outed as a hooker-hiring-drug-sniffer doesn’t count). If there are small children involved there is a grey area, I’ll admit, but surely it’s something you as a parent should be taking into account, regardless of whether you play football for one of the Big Four or design clothing for the rich and famous.
With the rise of Twitter – where news can be instantly published with little or no forward planning – lawyers feel that these superinjunctions are unsustainable. Basically, anybody with a Twitter account can break these gag orders – and because Twitter is an American-based organisation, it would be hard for UK courts to pursue the account holders. Essentially, one international court would have to enforce superinjunctions across the globe – which would be a logistical nightmare, obviously.