When John Terry's dalliances with England teammate Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend were revealed last week, I must admit I was quite shocked.
My astonishment had nothing to do with Terry participating in some nefarious activities. This is, after all, the same guy who drunkenly mocked American tourists at the London airport on September 11, 2001 (you stay classy John).
Instead, my shock was about the fact that the news being reported wasn't that Terry had cheated on his wife with a teammate's ex-girlfriend, but that a judge had decided it was all right to report that Terry had cheated on his wife with a teammate's ex-girlfriend.
Further investigation reveals the judge’s decision revoked an order that was originally granted at a private hearing on January 22. There, Terry and his lawyers were able to obtain what’s known in the UK as a “super-injunction,” a highly controversial gag order which stipulates that the press is not only forbidden from reporting on a certain subject, but also forbidden from reporting on the very existence of such an injunction. In other words, absolutely everything is swept under the rug.
Interestingly enough, super-injunctions are not actually sanctioned by any Parliamentary law. Instead, they have all been the result of judges’ interpretation of the 1998 Human Rights Act, which made the European Convention on Human Rights part of British law and specifically, Article 8 of the act, which guarantees ‘respect for private and family life’.
Article 8 is intended to protect the public interest, but recent rulings show that it’s increasingly becoming a convenient, albeit expensive, way for celebrities in the UK to keep their scandalous activities private. The precedent was set, naturally, by an (ALLEGED!) Nazi orgy.
In March 2008, the News of the World released footage of Max Mosley, then the head of Formula 1, engaging in some rather colorful acts involving five prostitutes speaking German, various (ALLEGED!) Nazi-themed uniforms and props, and role-playing. Mosley and his legal team took action against News of the World, saying they invaded his privacy and that there was no public interest being served by the publication of the video.
The judge, Justice Eady, ruled in Mosley’s favor, saying “there was no public interest or other justification for the clandestine recording, for the publication of the resulting information and still photographs, or for the placing of the video extracts on the News of the World website.”
Furthermore, Justice Easy ruled that the footage was not Nazi-themed, nor did the participants mock victims of the Holocaust. The News of the World was ordered to pay Mosley £60,000 in damages plus £450,000 for Mosley’s lawyer fees- a total of £510,000 (about $800,000).
Since this ruling, British newspapers have taken a more cautious approach towards reporting stories that could land them in legal hot water. Despite this, the number of super-injunctions issued has seemed to increase. As of October 2009, The Guardian reported that it had been served with at least 12 notices of injunctions, compared with six in all of 2006 and five the year before.
“We are in a position where the very rich can stop any publicity they don’t like while in many cases they are perfectly happy to milk publicity when it’s positive and benefits them. A free press should be the cornerstone of a free country and a free society and I am disturbed that injunctions are being granted willy-nilly to the wealthy and powerful.”
Which brings us back to the case of John Terry. Davies would probably say that Terry’s super-injunction was granted “willy-nilly,” and last week, High Court Justice Michael Tugendhat seemed to agree. The revocation of Terry's super-injunction was seen as a victory for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Great Britain. Advocates hope this case, like the Mosley case two years ago, sets a precedent for future litigation.
To me, there are serious inconsistencies in some super-injunction rulings. A main part of Judge Tugendhat's reasoning behind lifting the injunction was that he believed Terry requested it with a greater business interest in mind than a personal interest. That is to say, Terry was more concerned about losing lucrative sponsorship deals than he was about possible damage to his personal life. Surely, though, this sort of revelation doesn't help Terry in his personal relationships with teammates, friends, and family.
In Mosley's case, though, the judge ruled the News of the World shouldn't have released their video because the video had violated his personal privacy and served no public interest. However, there were undoubtedly financial incentives for Mosley and his business to win this case. For a massively popular worldwide company like Formula One, I can't help but think its bottom line would be boosted if the general public didn't think its head man was, um....a sadomasochistic Nazi.
Another reason behind Tugendhat's decision was he felt that Terry's infidelity had been rumored for some time and therefore, the expensive injunction was unnecessary to protect a man from the public becoming aware of something they most likely already knew, or at least suspected.
However, the English Premier League itself produces a contradictory case to this line of reasoning: Just this past December, a married EPL manager was spotted by reporters leaving a brothel. The manager's identity has been kept hidden due to a super-injunction. In the subsequent six weeks, there has been a significant amount of speculation regarding the manager in question. Many are convinced they know the manager's identity but to this point, the injunction still thwarts truth's advances.
Due to its ever-changing interpretations, and the fact that the UK purports to have freedom of the press, I believe the super-injunction should be abolished. It blurs the line between privacy and celebrity coddling and thus far many judges have been unable to discern the difference. Hopefully, the day will soon come when this provision will become a thing of the past.
Until that day though, Tiger Woods: move to England immediately!
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