Super Injunctions & The Art Of Destroying Lives

Breaking news: An unnamed premier league footballer has just launched legal action against Twitter for revealing that he is the subject of the Imogen Thomas Super Injunction. Meanwhile in a completely unrelated story Ryan Giggss lawyer has just bought a new speed boat and has made a late entry onto the Sunday Times rich list 2011.

Lest I be sued I should stress the outset that it’s not necessarily Ryan Giggs’ blood that everyone is baying for. But whoever it is, will have been spending fortunes on his legal team, even though it seems likely what with public pressure, his name will emerge in the end. All that money spent for what? Ill tell you for what. For a G-d given right to protect what is private and to ensure it remains that way. I dont use the word ‘G-d’ lightly here. I cant speak on behalf of other faiths but Judaism is pretty emphatic about its laws on tale-bearing. Theres a reason certain Jewish run newspapers dont include tittle-tattle and will be carefully scrutinised prior to publication to ensure it doesnt contravene any of the aforementioned prohibition.

Why We Do Have a Right to Know screamed The Mails weekend headline about former RBS chief Sir Freddy Goodwin who took out a super-injunction against publication of an alleged affair with a colleague. The judge removing the injunction insisted it was a matter of public interest. The Mail seems to imply his actions may have impaired his judgment and been in part responsible for bringing the bank to its knees.

So now we know why banks failed so badly during these past couple of years. It had nothing to do with economic downturn, bad debt, etc. It’s because bank chiefs were apparently ‘otherwise preoccupied.’ Lehman Brothers, Indie Mac, Lloyds, they were all at it! Heck, there must have been an orgy going on in Iceland.

I try to imagine how frustrating it must be for a newspaper editor equipped with information to have to bite his or her tongue. When youve got that front page story today thatll make everyone elses headline tomorrow, youre more than desperate to break it. So when a judge tells you, “you cant,” you find every imaginable excuse – usually taking the moral high ground with the classic “public interest” argument, to expose it. Let’s call a spade a spade. Newspaper editors care as much about public interest, as the public cares about any editors’ interests. The only interest the editor has is receiving plaudits and slaps on the back for his coup. It doesnt matter how many lives get ruined as long as it sells papers, right?

Wrong! Freedom of speech is a fundamental right of any democracy. But does freedom mean unbridled? Or does it include, as surely it must, responsible speech. That is to say, as much as you reserve the right to express yourself, you have to also bear in mind the consequences. it will harm others and leave a trail of carnage in its wake, then it has got to be wrong.
Sure there are certain high offices that necessitate impeccable behaviour and when that is violated then there are all sorts of implications. Just ask Bill Clinton. It is inevitable that people will learn about your indiscretions, but I’m not convinced that there is any value to a newspaper having to write about it in sordid detail if any detail at all. Word leaks, the rumour mill works overtime, but it doesn’t have to become crystallised in the media. I’ve yet to hear any compelling argument to the contrary.

Of course the problem is now compounded with social networks, and even the media has its hands tied, anonymous tweeters or postings on Facebook can do equal damage. Granted the internet doesn’t have the same degree of intrusion into privacy as the story being emblazoned on the front pages of newspapers, which people tend to trust more, but as England’s most senior civil judge Lord Neuberger said, “Modern technology is totally out of control and society should consider other ways to bring Twitter and other websites under control.”

The debate will rage on. Meanwhile couples that might have been able to work through their issues will be forced to split in the face of public humiliation. Children, whose innocence might have otherwise been protected, will have to tolerate the scorn of their friends. Many other lives will be destroyed in the process. It’s all in the good name of “public interest.”