But are super-injunctions a good thing?

Submitted by Matthew on 25 May, 2011 - 12:12

Readers respond to Pat Murphy’s article Why super-injunctions are good (Solidarity 3-204).

Like Pat, I have no love of the tabloid press, and I have no doubt that they oppose super-injunctions for reasons of making money rather than free enquiry; but just because the Sun opposes something, it doesn’t make it right.

A disdain for the reporting of celebrity gossip is healthy, but in large part these super-injunctions are not to stop idle gossip but to hide pretty uncomfortable facts.

The current super-injunctions are mere playthings of the rich and famous. For most ordinary people the popular press can lie and invade privacy with impunity. One super-injunction prevented the press reporting details of an industrial tribunal hearing sexual harassment charges against a famous celebrity chef. Surely we want our employers and colleagues to know that sexual harassment cases are taken seriously and investigated, pursued through legal mechanisms, and reported by the press.

Pat ignores the fact that many plaintiffs’ motivation is protecting their public image, as with the footballer who wants to cultivate a public image of a clean-cut family man aloof from the flash and brash of your standard footballer.

While I agree with Pat that it would be a better world if these characters’ affairs were not headline news, that’s not something we can influence at this stage.

The answer to this celebrity culture is neither greater power in the hands of celebrities to make public only pleasant aspects of their image, nor further powers for anyone to prevent the press publicising genuine public interest stories, nor for judges to be allowed to define the law.

What is required is a general right to privacy for everyone, enforceable by criminal rather than civil law, so that rights are guaranteed to everyone rather than just the super-wealthy.

Martin Ohr, Leeds

Pat wrote “All other things being equal, a libertarian socialist would be for the right of the press to print stories irrespective of whether we agree with them or are comfortable with the content.”

That is right and should be the guiding principle here. But Pat totally fails to show why other things aren’t equal in the cases he discusses — perhaps because, hoist by his own petard, he cannot do so without discussing the actual content of the cases which are subject to the injunctions.

It seems to me that the right to privacy (which I think needs to be qualified in any case) can be balanced legally against free speech by a broad but strict interpretation defined in law of “public interest”, which could serve to draw a line between trivial and intrusive tabloid celebrity bollocks and cases like Trafigura. As to proposals to use the criminal law, that would leave the way open for the state to prosecute all sorts of material they wished not to be published.

The only sensible way to equalise things financially is by a massive extension of legal aid to cover access to libel law, etc.

Bruce Robinson, Manchester

Suppose that wealth ceased to be the decisive factor in obtaining a gagging order. An authoritarian law based on the principle that the state should define the public interest with regard to the press remains just that regardless of who invokes it. It is also quite a hostage to fortune from a revolutionary point of view.

The trashiness of the British press is not the relevant background for this discussion.

Our demand to “open the books” recognises the eternal utility of secrecy to power and censorship to the state. A “better, clearer” censor’s charter is not a working-class demand. “Don’t trust the capitalists with your liberties, freedom of speech!” is.

Socialists and even principled liberals should respond to the evident conflict between the famous and horny and the paper proprietors by demanding, as a bare minimum, an end to official censorship and a guarantee on freedom of speech equal to that of the first amendment to the American Constitution.

Only then will we be able to properly expose the hypocrisy of the media moguls by showing just how little they care about liberty, and just how much we do.

Robert Fox, Oxford

The first major problem with Pat’s piece is the way he conflates the issue of content in the media and the right to privacy.

I think all good socialists would agree that having a mainstream media obsessed with celebrity and not dealing with politics is a bad thing. However, to condemn this change in the media as not a natural evolution is barmy. It is, sadly, completely natural, and brought about by capitalism seeking to maximise profit from the press.

It is a lot cheaper and easier for the media to deal with “tittle tattle” than to pay investigative journalists, or for journalists to sit in courts/council meetings/Parliament. It is our role as socialists to address this issue.

Pat is wrong when he assigns a role for the (bourgeois dominated) courts to step in and save the media. When have socialists turned to the courts to defend us on such large issues? In a situation where the left is weak, it is practical to pursue cases against sexual discrimination/right to strike, etc., through the courts, just as we take a stance in Parliamentary elections and would support workers’ rights bills. But it is also important that we do not rely on one bourgeois group to dictate to another what they can and can’t print. Rather we should be taking this on ourselves, perhaps through empowering media unions, for example, not through a law.

Pat is right to say a right to privacy should apply to us all, as should access to the courts. We do have privacy laws in UK/EU law already.

What is worrying is that an extreme version of this right to privacy is being used as a tool to dismantle the principle of right to open justice — to be banned from even reporting on an injunction is just crazy.

Will Lodge, NUJ member, Essex

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