Political Promise

Super Injunctions on Twitter

In Allie Wickham on May 18, 2011 at 9:00 am

Allie Wickham writes on the increasing power of Twitter in light of the super-injunctions that have rocked established forms of media.

It is a sign of the increasing power that social media wields in British society: today, a mystery whistleblower used an anonymous Twitter account to break five High Court super-injunctions and strike a blow for freedom of expression. Over the last few weeks tabloid newspapers – and, increasingly, broadsheets – have expressed dismay over the ability of celebrities to have their indiscretions hidden from public view. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, meanwhile expressed his ‘unease’ at the possibility of judges effectively creating a privacy law which contradicts the freedom of the press. Yet the practical impossibility of policing super-injunctions across the Internet has resulted in a Twitter account being used to ‘out’ a leading Premier League footballer, several British television and film actors, and a celebrity chef.

The arguments against super-injunctions are clear. It is a fundamental facet of our democracy that the press is given the freedom to investigate and hold accountable those who choose to figure in public life. If the judiciary begins to censor the media then it embarks on a dangerous slippery slope; it becomes very difficult to see where the line should be drawn and to decide whose interests the law should be seeking to protect. We may decide that the extra-marital affair of an actor is the business of himself and his family alone, but when Andrew Marr is cheating on his wife and then interrogating politicians about their own integrity the very next day a serious problem arises. Fortunately Mr. Marr has recognised this and withdrawn his particular injunction. It may be unfortunate that the sordid private lives of sometimes obscure celebrities are an infatuation of the British public, but you cannot legislate in an attempt to tell the populace what it should and should not find of interest. Furthermore, there is a commercial argument against the creeping privacy law. When the two competing interests are a football club’s attempts to profit by selling shirts carrying the name of a shamed player versus the right of a newspaper to satiate the demands of its readership, why should the former be protected and the latter punished? Another factor for consideration is equality. The legal fees required for attaining a super-injunction are believed to be in the region of £50,000 to £100,000. Surely it is fundamentally unfair that wealthy footballers and actors can use their money to protect themselves while The Sun is able to run a campaign delving into the lives of those who it considers to be receiving underserved benefits?  Finally, we come to the quite ridiculous example of Jemima Khan. The aforementioned Twitter account published five correct stories and one fabrication: the claim that Ms. Khan could be seen in ‘intimate’ photographs with the television presenter Jeremy Clarkson. This story is completely untrue, and yet due to the super-injunctions that exist for the genuine claims, BBC and Sky News are showing Ms. Khan’s face every hour and talking only about her. The misdemeanours of five guilty celebrities cannot be revealed in the media, yet a perfectly innocent woman faces undue embarrassment. As Ms. Khan tweeted herself: ‘the proof that I haven’t got a super-injunction is that the papers have printed my name and no one else’s…I hope the people who made this story up realise my sons will be bullied at school because of this’.

The fact that at least five celebrities appear to have wasted up to £100,000 each on attempting to gag the press is a victory for freedom of expression. There is a delicate balance to be struck between this freedom and the right of individuals to privacy, but the High Court decisions of the last few weeks have taken too one-sided an approach. Louise Bagshawe, the Conservative MP who caused a storm on this subject on Have I Got News For You, has it right when she says the government should act. If we begin to censor our media, then we will lose one of the most important tools of democratic accountability that we have.

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  1. […] Super Injunctions on Twitter « Political Promise […]

  2. What a farce. The English courts think they can stop people abroad posting information on websites based abroad.

    I’m having a lot of fun re-posting the links where the people mentioned in these injunctions are named…sod the consequences!

    There is far too much secrecy in this country, and if, in my own small way I can help abolish a law that is wrong, well I shall continue doing what I’m doing.

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