On the Media: Celebrities, Super Injunctions and Phone Hacking
By Millie Cartwright
Last night Frontline Club was host to a panel of experts discussing celebrities, super injunctions and phone hacking.
The panel comprised of David Aaronovitch, writer, broadcaster and regular columnist for The Times; William Bennet, a barrister at 5RB chambers who specialises in defamation and privacy law; Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator; and David Allen Green, lawyer and legal correspondent for the New Statesman. It was chaired by the BBC’s Legal Affairs Correspondent Clive Coleman
Coleman set the tone with the statement, “[super injunctions] are a story that just never stops giving; another day, another injunction, another melting of an injunction.”
The debate began with questions of hypocrisy. Aaronovitch argued that there was a long held conviction that “the press believe that any story that sells is justified” and that there is a total lack of hypocrisy on their side, but that is itself hypocritical.
Oborne was in agreement:
“[It is the] most incredible hypocrisy,” he said. “It was the most shameful day in the history of parliament when parliamentary privilege was abused when Rooney was named in the Commons.”
Oborne went on to criticise Rupert Murdoch’s News International for its alleged involvement in trying to “cover-up” the phone hacking scandal. The media corporation’s “criminal behaviour” had made him feel “uncomfortable to be a journalist,” he said.
David Allen Green said he beleived phone hacking had occured because of the “casual attitude in mainstream media about privacy and legality.” There are appropriate measures, but at a “safe distance,” he added.
Coleman raised two often-asked questions: why is it only the rich and famous that take out super injunctions and are the victims of phone hacking? And does the injunction make a story more sensational than the act itself?
Bennett pointed out that if the Ryan Giggs / Imogen Thomas story had been released initially it would have been “today’s fish and chip paper.” There was agreement that super injunctions exacerbate situations by their very nature, and that newspaper readers aren’t interested in the sex lives of the general public.
Aaronovitch pointed out “privacy laws have never stopped The Guardian publishing.”
“[But] it’s not right for us to know about Ryan Giggs’ life, it’s not in the public interest,” Oborne replied.
They were in agreement that “people need to be told about such events in order to get them to read the rest of the paper, [in terms of economics and getting other messages across].”
Aaronovitch then extended his earlier remit of hypocrisy: “There is a hypocrisy of people in general with different ideas of privacy; privacy of the self and privacy of others.”
Oborne put this down to the continuous balancing act brought about with the assimilation of the Human Rights Act (2008). “We are still finding a balance between human rights, expression and privacy,” he said.
The panel agreed on the cyclical nature of privacy law and the public demand for it. Bennett argued that the public love the “rumbustiousness of the media” but that a cultural shift will change this. Oborne blamed Rupert Murdoch for the “debasing and debauching of British media.”
“Should and/or could Parliament legislate?” Coleman asked. Here the panel disagreed.
Allen Green believed that there was already privacy law in place and said that it just needs “abiding by and enforcing,” to which Bennett was opposed. He argued that there isn’t already legislation, and that it is better to develop a common law case by case than statue law. If not, he said parliament needs to create a threshold as “nobody’s rights have precedence over another.”
Aaronovitch thought Parliament was running away from the matter entirely.
Watch the full discussion here.