Thursday 30 March 2017

Paper tigers allow injunctions get in the way of a good story

England took no prisoners in its pursuit of freedom last week. The pursuit of freedom was all the more pressing because it was important not to be as unfree as the French.

England has now reached a stage of such mundane transparency that it chases a politician for allegedly avoiding points on his driving licence. His only chance of survival is if his pursuers lose interest through the crushing boredom of the details.

Some argued that the disgrace of Dominique Strauss-Kahn provided an example of what happened when privacy laws got out of hand. If the press had been free to report on the behaviour of DSK then a woman may not have allegedly been the victim of a terrible sexual assault.

Britain had its crusading press but in France, according to one pundit on Sky News, DSK was "trying to rape a journalist while she was interviewing him".

The pursuit of Ryan Giggs was now of the utmost importance. Giggs was a man with nothing to be ashamed of except a few infidelities but the type of injunction he had obtained could also be obtained by RAPISTS. All men are potential rapists, they used to say, certainly last week it seemed that all men with super-injunctions had that potential.

Of course, the press had nothing to do with the capture of DSK, that was the police, but the press were ready to report it in a land which cherishes freedom of speech. They were reporting it in France too, albeit in France's way.

These freedoms were at stake in the war against injunctions and super-injunctions but other freedoms, including the freedom to blackmail celebrities, were in jeopardy too.

Once Ryan Giggs was finally named everyone breathed out again as order appeared to be restored. The Sun went back to the High Court, expecting to have the injunction overturned so they could print the story in all its details, only to find that the courts weren't prepared to do that. "This is not about secrecy, it is about intrusion," the judge said.

Most journalism, good and bad, is about intrusion, but judges, not just the judges who have never heard of Gazza or Glee or Charlie Sheen, are against intrusion and often against journalism. So journalists felt they should fight to defend freedom of speech. On Twitter, once Giggs and his lawyers took the catastrophic decision to pursue the organisation and some of its users, the army was mobilised in pursuit of some inchoate cause.

But for what? There was no moral case here to justify the intrusion. Even The Sun has not tried to claim that the public interest was being served in their court appearances. Some were trying to push forward the hoary old line that Giggs was a "family man" and therefore guilty of some punishable hypocrisy.

The only right the press were defending in the Giggs case was the right to control the market for selling stories. Imogen Thomas has denied Justice Eady's suggestions that she was attempting to blackmail Giggs, but many saw her as the judge depicted. This would be unfair. Thomas is just a patsy. If the newspapers object when Giggs, or some other cad, puts himself forward as a "family man" they can simply refuse to print these wholesome stories instead of deciding to expose the duplicity. Going to war is more fun, as is exposing his moral contradictions, which would be familiar to most people who accommodate plenty of moral contradictions in their own lives.

Of course, the newspapers wouldn't print the stories if people didn't want to read them. Who didn't take pleasure in the discomfort of John Terry? Some of us enjoyed it while wondering what exactly he had done to merit being stripped of the England captaincy and even the Dad of the Year award.

If he had been Husband of the Year, it might have been different but adultery and good parenting are not mutually exclusive.

Newspapers are trying to entertain us with these stories, knowing that we want to read them, no matter how much we protest about a lack of interest. There is no moral case to be made for them, no matter how much of a "family man" the target has claimed to be.

Of course, they will be helped by those who seem to think there is some link between the remarkable accomplishments of Giggs on the field and whatever he chooses to do to unwind. "When first heard it was him, I felt really let down. How pathetic is that. Thought he was different. Voted for him on BBC SPOTY."

This was the reaction on Twitter of the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire, who is not married to Ryan Giggs and presumably felt cheated into voting for him as Sports Personality of the Year because she had voted for a family man and now he was a different kind of family man.

If anyone outside Giggs' family is disappointed it is because they have created a fantasy world in their own heads. Ryan Giggs has had a remarkable career and because he is smart, reasonably funny, yogic and polite, it turns out that he must be faithful too. It's just take, take, take.

The world demands fidelity from its politicians and yet it despises politicians like never before, believing them to be liars, despite the lack of evidence that they cheat on their wives.

Ultimately nobody believes the line that if a politician can cheat on his wife, they can cheat the voters but it serves a purpose.

The crusade against the super-injunctions served a purpose too. An unwieldy legal instrument and determination of the masses on Twitter (even if they were ultimately doing the work of the old media) and the intervention of Alex Ferguson -- "ban him on Friday" -- gave the impression that something important was at risk.

Just because men like Hugh Grant and Max Mosley are in favour of these injunctions, it doesn't mean we should oppose them. After all, Max Clifford is against them.

What Mosley chose to do in the privacy of a sex dungeon was his own business. Giggs is entitled to his private life and his secret life. Nobody needs to be disappointed by that.

dfanning@independent.ie

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