I’m gagging – if you’ll pardon the pun – to know who they are, all these injunctionees and superinjunctionees who are apparently currently cluttering up our courts with their desire not to have their sexual indiscretions plastered across the nation’s tabloids. Aren’t you? Of course, I could Google and find out from a non-UK website within two shakes of a madam’s lash, but where’s the fun in that?
The thing is, I shouldn’t want to know who they are.
I shouldn’t be Googling to find it out. This is not, as my American friend says, my Best Self and I should ignore its siren call.
Which is why, although we seem to be expected to be up in arms about these philandering people’s ability to protect themselves from exposure, I find myself mentally defending the use of this nifty legal device.
The anti-injunction argument goes: these things are a threat to our great British tradition of freedom of speech and to the freedom of our press to expose matters of public interest. They protect the rich, famous and powerful and help them continue to live the unfettered lives of Riley we don’t enjoy.
Hmm. Yes. Well. But. My suspicion is that these highfalutin phrases like freedom of speech and freedom of the press actually translate into something baser. Something like “freedom to gossip” and “freedom to shift an extra 25,000 copies”. And the phrase “in the public interest” does not mean “a story that interests the public”. It means a story of the order that X or Y has been involved in something unquestionably criminal, like pilfering pension funds, trafficking drugs, illegally arming war-torn nations or commissioning another series of The Hunks.
“What these unfaithful men deserve is to be unmasked, hauled over the coals and kicked in the nuts in private”
Logically, a Wayne Rooney or a Tiger Woods should only be vilified by us or the press or lose their endorsements if they cease to be what they gained them for in the first place: good sportsmen. Similarly, I would argue that politicians’ extra-marital affairs or illegitimate children are none of our concern unless they are so obsessively bonking their secretaries in the Privy Seal’s privy that they miss an important vote and accidentally let a law enacting the wholesale privatisation of the NHS or compulsory leather jeggings-wearing pass. Hugh Grant’s Divine dalliance should only have been published if he was an anti-prostitution campaigner.
And what would the nation really lose if a celebrity succeeds in getting their superinjunction and we never heard allegations of them sleeping their way through half of Cheshire? The red tops would have had to find other ways of shifting copies and our appetite for salacious stories would not have been pandered to and the sum of human happiness would have remained about the same.
That’s not to defend what all these cretins do, and yes, it is galling that the way things are currently set up seems to protect disproportionately rich, famous, unfaithful men. Naturally, that offends our sense of moral justice. The immediate response is that they deserve to be unmasked and hauled over the coals. But, like most immediate responses, it’s not right.
What they actually deserve (unless their public roles are papal or otherwise dependent on infallible judgment and moral flawlessness) is to be unmasked, coal-hauled and repeatedly kicked in the nuts in private by those directly affected by their behaviour.
Tabloid exposure is never done for the greater good – it’s done to make extra money. If they were truly publishing in the public interest, there would be no payments for exclusives, no premium for stories involving sex, and there would likely be a lot more stories about the various megalomaniac and eccentric tycoons who actually own the newspapers.
Injunctions are in many ways a legal attempt to impose normal civilised behaviour on those who think they are above it. Of course like any legal remedy they can be misapplied and will doubtless be subject to change in the not-too-distant future. But when a subject is ‘turned over’ it means his wife and family are denied the chance either to live in ignorance or to work things out in private in a way that the rest of us would have. It also means someone who knowingly (99% of the time) slept with a famous, married entity gets to pocket a generous sum paid to her by the tabloids and, if she (99% of the time) wishes and is savvy enough quickly enough, to parlay her notoriety into a further series of paydays further down the line. Does that not offend us too?
Contact Lucy Mangan at email@example.com and on twitter.com/lucymangan.
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