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May 8, 2011 5:17 PM   Subscribe

In the UK, "super-injunctions" can prohibit the press from reporting a story on privacy grounds and from reporting that any such injunction has been issued. Newspapers are occasionally quite playful in getting around these increasingly unpopular injunctions. The Telegraph famously pointed its readers to the then-trending twitter campaign against Trafgura and, today, the Daily Mail appears to be playing a similar game. More prosaically, The Independent has simply reported a Tory MP's comments in Parliament that a currently sitting MP has taken out a super-injunction.

A few have been successfully challenged by the papers affected, and subsequently given high profiles by the press. Recent examples include: Andrew Marr's injunction regarding an extramarital affair; and Trafigura's injunction (injunction with annotations in this PDF) regarding accusations that its toxic waste disposal scheme had led to widespread and serious illnesses on the Ivory Coast. Carter-Ruck, a law firm involved in many such cases, argues that such injunctions are necessary and that "most of the coverage, has been hysterical and hyperbolic".

However, perhaps current reports of super-injunctions should be treated with caution: the result of a case brought to the ECHR by Max Mosely is exprected this week, which is expected to "in effect, introduce a celebrity privacy law [with] a chilling effect on freedom of expression". News companies can reasonably be suppose to strongly oppose this measure, leading lawyer and free speech advocate David Allen Green to caution that "The mainstream media desperately want to discredit an adverse Mosley judgment on injunctions. Be skeptical what they tell you this week.".
posted by metaBugs (72 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
It was noted twice during 10 O'Clock Live's run that there's an even more speech-chilling version, hyper injunctions, which you aren't even allowed to tell your MP about. Couple that with the fact that it seems, at least in the cases that have come to light thus far, that those who have taken out these general gag orders have been entirely among the rich and famous/powerful.

I'm of a mind to ignore the self-serving nature of the furor over the various gag orders, and the fact that it's most likely the mud-slinging Murdoch press who stands to benefit from them, since they are obviously poisonous to the idea of free speech. Things like this can't long stand if you hope to have a working democracy. They might merely be used to hide tawdry details of one's personal life now, but I'd think it only a matter of time before more substantial exploitations are found.

Of course I live a very long way from the UK, so who the hell cares what I think, heh.
posted by JHarris at 5:35 PM on May 8, 2011


I have mixed feelings; on the one hand, the courts attempting to dictate that newspapers may not report on the activities of British corporations, and that MPs may not discuss matters of public interest, is transparent bullshit.

On the other hand, much of the push in the last week around this has been about which footballer is fucking some bird with big knockers, and, frankly, stricter privacy in that direction disturbs me not a whit. Quite the opposite in fact.
posted by rodgerd at 5:35 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


They might merely be used to hide tawdry details of one's personal life now, but I'd think it only a matter of time before more substantial exploitations are found.

A story linked in the post details a case where Trafigura obtained a secret injunction "to prevent disclosures about toxic oil waste it arranged to be dumped in west Africa in 2006, making thousands of people ill." So the time of more substantial exploitations is already here, and has been here for years.
posted by grouse at 5:38 PM on May 8, 2011 [13 favorites]


Yes, all the judges issuing hyper-injunctions should be held in contempt of parliament.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:38 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are good arguments both ways regarding privacy and openness. How do other countries balance the two?
posted by Jehan at 5:42 PM on May 8, 2011


On the other hand, much of the push in the last week around this has been about which footballer is fucking some bird with big knockers, and, frankly, stricter privacy in that direction disturbs me not a whit. Quite the opposite in fact.

Again, speaking from the perspective of an American so calibrate by multiplying these opinion-vectors by one Atlantic ocean:

Well that's the thing. Sports figures, in the U.S. at least, are sometimes stupidly held up as role models, so knowing about these indiscretions helps to dispel that glamor about them.

Plus there are so many political figures lately with sexual skeletons in their all-too-occupied closets, and so often has it been precisely those people who have been the ones who have railed the loudest about "family values," that I'm frankly grateful their privacy has been violated in those cases.
posted by JHarris at 5:46 PM on May 8, 2011


Metafilter: Sexual skeletons in their all-too-occupied closets.
posted by 445supermag at 5:49 PM on May 8, 2011


I get the idea of redirection - although, it's disheartening to hear that your judicial system is as malleable in the hands of the powerful as what we have here in the US - but... What's the "secret" in the Daily Mail article about Hugh Bonneville..? I suppose you have to know his television show, or his wife, or...?
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 5:56 PM on May 8, 2011


What's the "secret" in the Daily Mail article about Hugh Bonneville..?

You didn't hear it from me.
posted by Orinda at 6:00 PM on May 8, 2011


The rules are different if you have the money to go to court.
posted by orthogonality at 6:01 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gentlemen, that last remark is not for publication; this is a D-notice situation.
posted by adipocere at 6:02 PM on May 8, 2011


Well, one good thing about these injunctions is that they will encourage alternate ways of distributing news
posted by kuatto at 6:08 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's the "secret" in the Daily Mail article about Hugh Bonneville..?

You didn't hear it from me.


Can you tell me which sitting MP has one as well?
posted by Jehan at 6:12 PM on May 8, 2011


Can you tell me which sitting MP has one as well?

Not at the moment, but you might want to keep an eye on this bloke. Or choose your own search terms and let a little bird tell you.
posted by Orinda at 6:19 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are good arguments both ways regarding privacy and openness. How do other countries balance the two?

France's fairly strict privacy laws are, I believe, are a big part of the reason Depp, Jolie, and Pitt live there.

I can see the compelling interest in knowing and anti-gay MP cruises for sex in public toilets. I fail to see any social value in knowing some random actor is happy to pay a woman to poke things into his bottom, unless you consider letting Murdoch make more money by pandering to anti-sex types a compelling social concern.
posted by rodgerd at 6:29 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


(As an aside, one may wish to be a little circumspect around circumventing some of those orders on MeFi unless you're quite sure Matt's got spare money for lawyers.)
posted by rodgerd at 6:31 PM on May 8, 2011


(As an aside, one may wish to be a little circumspect around circumventing some of those orders on MeFi unless you're quite sure Matt's got spare money for lawyers.)

Seems like the Oregon Treaty was signed in 1846, so I'm not sure why Matt would be at risk.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:35 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't understand why there is apparently no significant movement in the UK for an explicit right to freedom of speech. Why isn't this a major political issue? Canada, I'm looking at you too.
posted by republican at 6:52 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The most sublime injunction subversion of all time.

(My favorite thing about that clip: note how Stephen's trying so hard to maintain his deadpan signoff that he's actually rising up on his tiptoes -- you can tell by the way his head slowly rises to the top of the screen.)
posted by Rhaomi at 7:06 PM on May 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Can you tell me which sitting MP has one as well?

Not at the moment, but you might want to keep an eye on this bloke. Or choose your own search terms and let a little bird tell you.


Nadine Dorries! It turns out she's actually two people: Good Nadine and Evil Nadine. You can recognize Evil Nadine as she has a goatee.

Seriously though, as rodgerd said, it's only worth knowing if it somehow effects their ability to do their job or not be a hypocrite. Eric Pickles being into paraphilic infantilism isn't any of my business.
posted by Jehan at 7:09 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey UK folk, are your libel laws as classist as they look over here, or do they actually help protect the working man?
posted by infinitewindow at 7:30 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why there is apparently no significant movement in the UK for an explicit right to freedom of speech. Why isn't this a major political issue? Canada, I'm looking at you too.

I know this is hard to believe, but not everyone in the world thinks that any country which doesn't look like the US is an irretrievably broken shitheap that can only be improved by slavish emulation of that pinnacle of societical evolution.
posted by rodgerd at 7:49 PM on May 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


Hey UK folk, are your libel laws as classist as they look over here, or do they actually help protect the working man?

To be read with an upper-class English accent: "I think these injunctions are super!"
posted by binturong at 7:51 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I believe that folk in the US can also relate to this quote from George Bernard Shaw:
" The law is equal before all of us; but we are not all equal before the law. Virtually there is one law for the rich and another for the poor, one law for the cunning and another for the simple, one law for the forceful and another for the feeble, one law for the ignorant and another for the learned, one law for the brave and another for the timid..."
posted by binturong at 8:00 PM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


The question is, reasonable though it may seem to want to protect the privacy of people in the public eye from the prying of an irresponsible tabloid press... is it worth sacrificing the most basic principle of freedom of expression?

If a claim is false and defamatory, there are legal protections. If it's true and without malice in intent, tough beans. Once you start to abrogate the rights of a free press, you're headed down a dark road.
posted by evilcolonel at 8:16 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


is it worth sacrificing the most basic principle of freedom of expression?

This is a false dichotomy, as a restriction on speech does not cause the entire concept of freedom of speech to be invalidated. The classic response is to point out that even in America I can't falsely yell fire in a crowded theatre. That is totally a violation of the basic principle of freedom of expression, yet an obviously sensible curtailment of speech.
posted by boubelium at 8:24 PM on May 8, 2011


So nobody wants to see photos of Jeremy Clarkson's gentleman's garden, then?
posted by contessa at 8:25 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, injunctions, however often misused, have proper and good uses too. I remember a few years ago when the now adult murderers of James Bulger were released, an injunction was put into place to keep the media from reporting on their new identities. That seems like an excellent use of such powers in an attempt to allow former convicts to start new lives and to protect them from certain vigilante justice.
posted by boubelium at 8:26 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]



I know this is hard to believe, but not everyone in the world thinks that any country which doesn't look like the US is an irretrievably broken shitheap that can only be improved by slavish emulation of that pinnacle of societical evolution.

Me neither, but if I was designing a country from scratch, I might take this piece of the US, just as I'd make sure to take anyone else's health care and vacations.

That seems like an excellent use of such powers in an attempt to allow former convicts to start new lives and to protect them from certain vigilante justice.

Doubtless Karla Homolka and Juliet Hulme would get behind that idea.
posted by tyllwin at 8:42 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


The classic response is to point out that even in America I can't falsely yell fire in a crowded theatre.

Unless there's a fire. Truth is the ultimate defense.

Injunctions are one thing. To deny a publisher the right to even acknowledge the existence of one is something else again. In effect, the court has defamed the publisher by denying it the right to defend itself against any allegation that it has not been diligent in its reporting.
posted by evilcolonel at 8:45 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


This situation may fall under the broad umbrella of freedom of speech, but the more specific issue is prior restraint. As fans of The Big Lebowski will no doubt recall, the United States Supreme Court has roundly rejected such legislation.
posted by ryanrs at 9:55 PM on May 8, 2011


Restrictions on speech intended to prevent certain true facts from becoming widely known strike me as more troubling than restrictions that target other harms (i.e., false defamation, obscenity, solicitation to commit a crime, false statements tending to cause a panic, etc.).
posted by planet at 11:00 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why there is apparently no significant movement in the UK for an explicit right to freedom of speech.

Because we already have one? The 1998 Human Rights act allows UK courts to act upon the rights explicitly grantly by european law, specifically the european convention on human rights.

Such rights include Article 10, which provides the right to freedom of expression, subject to certain restrictions that are "in accordance with law" and "necessary in a democratic society". This right includes the freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas.

We don't have an absolute right of free speech; but then neither does the US. We draw the line somewhat differently as what can be restricted in the public good, but the right to free speech is explicitly there.

However - we also have have an explicit right to privacy under the same convention; Article 8 provides a right to respect for one's "private and family life, his home and his correspondence", subject to certain restrictions that are "in accordance with law" and "necessary in a democratic society".

When it comes to a footballer boffin' a prozzie, for example, the two come directly into conflict.

Note, such super-injuctions don't seem to last long - they get overturned pretty regularly, on the basis that the same information is already widely available outside the jurisdiction of the courts, i.e. places like twitter.

While the average non-rich person won't be availing themselves of super-injuctions in the high court, neither is the Daily Fail likely to be printing stories about Mr Smith of Boggin Hill, 39, who slept with his neighbour. However, the same laws do protect Mr Smith from an irate busybody putting up posters about town describing what nasty things he gets up to with said neighbour; or that Mr Smith's other neighbour is a big gay poofter, as another example.

So while there's certainly much to be said about the abuse of super-injuctions, and the definite need for legislation to prevent that - especially in their use by corporations to block negative press, even extending to trying to censor reporting of what MPs say in parliament about them - they reflect that there is a direct conflict between the right of the press to print, and the rights of the individual to a private family life.

Is it *really* in the public interest for us all to know that a certain highly paid footballer is having sex with someone who's not his wife? A politician going gay dogging on the commons I can see the argument for, but knowing that Max Mosley has nazi-themed sex parties might be interesting to the public, but that does not make it in the public interest.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:34 PM on May 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


Wait, is the UK perspective actually that the justifying, redeeming value of super-injunctions is that it keeps tabloids from reporting on athletes' sex scandals? Honestly, that's not just a joke covering up some better reason? To my American ears that sounds like absurdly weak sauce. Can I get a super-injunction for any old thing that I don't want people to know about me?

There are good arguments both ways

For the sake of argument let's consider the oversexed footballer to be a good argument. It's a good argument for injunctions, though, not for super-injunctions. Is there a good argument for super-injunctions?
posted by hattifattener at 11:41 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey UK folk, are your libel laws as classist as
they look over here, or do they actually help
protect the working man?

That's not how the law works here - or where you're from either, by the looks of it.
posted by londonmark at 11:48 PM on May 8, 2011


Can I get a super-injunction for any old thing that I don't want people to know about me?

If you can convince a high-court judge that the reporting of said thing would have a strong negative impact upon your right to a private personal and family life, well, yes. That's an injunction sorted.

You now need to also convince him that blocking one paper isn't enough; you also need to stop them talking about it in general while unsubtly still publishing the info, or tipping off the other papers. Now you have a super-injunction.

Wait, is the UK perspective actually that the justifying, redeeming value of super-injunctions is that it keeps tabloids from reporting on athletes' sex scandals?

No, it's that the right to a private life is important, and that over-riding that right to give the press carte blanche to print whatever bollocks they want about people should have a better reason than 'we want to make people buy our papers with a front page headline and glossy photo on page 2 about how Wayne Rooney is having sex with someone *not his wife*'.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:51 PM on May 8, 2011


Max Farquar seems up todate with who's superinjuncting whom. I agree that identities should be hidden by by some sort of legal decree as in the Bulger muder case mentioned upthread but Wankers like this should be exposed to the full glare of public scrutiny and preferably pilloried, but this practice was unfortunately abolished in 1837.
posted by adamvasco at 11:52 PM on May 8, 2011


Is it *really* in the public interest for us all to know that a certain highly paid footballer is having sex with someone who's not his wife? A politician going gay dogging on the commons I can see the argument for

I'm not sure how you drew the distinction here but I don't follow. The former is illegal; I'm not even sure about the latter. Please elaborate.
posted by londonmark at 11:54 PM on May 8, 2011


Oops. Sorry, clearly not illegal. I saw prozzie in another comment...
posted by londonmark at 11:57 PM on May 8, 2011


Is it *really* in the public interest for us all to know that a certain highly paid footballer is having sex with someone who's not his wife? A politician going gay dogging on the commons I can see the argument for

I don't agree with the argument personally, but it goes like this:

"A politician is responsible for drawing up legislation. Having sex outside your marriage isn't illegal; gay (or straight) dogging in a public place is. Even if he's having gay sex in his private home, that's still in the public interest as then the public can examine his voting record in the full light of knowledge about his personal character. Politicians need to be held to a high standard, which includes them being honest and truthful about their sex life, as opposed to keeping it secret and hidden. Several MPs are openly gay; there's no reason a gay MP should feel the need to break the law to indulge his particular sexuality."

For reference, I picked the gay dogging example as that is an actual example; Ron Davies. Mark Oaten had his bid for Lib Dem leader sunk when it was revealed he had sex with a male prostitute. There has also been numerous cases of Tory MPs getting nailed with straight sex scandals, including John Major.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:02 AM on May 9, 2011


Note, having sex with a prostitute isn't illegal, nor is in fact being a prostitute. However, having sex in public, offering to exchange sex for money, and operating a brothel are illegal, so it's a narrow distinction in practise.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:17 AM on May 9, 2011


The way British law often forces the media to talk in coy double entendres was the subject of a Daily Show segment that includes one of the greatest comedy bits ever: 1, 2 (video).
posted by abcde at 12:17 AM on May 9, 2011


Yes, sorry, I understand now. I can sympathise with the MP as higher standard argument, yet at the same time I wonder if maybe MPs have a more legitimate right to a private life than those celebrities who court media attention for financial gain (there are many of them) but change their tune when the focus shifts. What's the adage? A double-edged sword?
posted by londonmark at 12:18 AM on May 9, 2011


Oops, Rhaomi beat me to it. I did include the first part, which I think helps to set it up.
posted by abcde at 12:23 AM on May 9, 2011


I remember years back there was this thing that you couldn't say that Peter Mandelson was homosexual, even though everyone knew he was (and he later came out).

One sketch show set it up by describing him as a home....owner, and then someone else saying 'what's wrong with homosexuals owning houses?'. (this was in the middle of a scandal about a home loan he had received).

(Similar thing in New Zealand when a newspaper ran an editorial saying that there was nothing wrong with the Prime Minister being a lesbian - the then PM was widely believed to be a lesbian, but wasn't out).
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:28 AM on May 9, 2011


It's beyond clear that U.K. style libel laws are an ongoing manifestation of the British class system, and that U.S. style freedom of speech "gets it right".1 All libel injunctions extend the courts power into reals that simply don't require it, exacerbating the inequality between rich & poor because :

The rich may bring and defend libel cases far more easily, ala binturong's George Bernard Shaw. If I've money, I may sue a poorly financed reporter, bloger, etc. for libel, immediately begin discrediting them through libel, and use both resulting court cases to bleed their finances.

In the McLibel case for example, the European Court of Human Rights ultimately ruled that Steel & Morris had been denied a fair trial, in breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

There are libel laws in the U.S. of course, but (a) the plaintiff must prove the libeler is lying, (b) courts rarely seal the proceedings, (c) courts throw the cases out quickly, and (d) some states offer anti-SLAPP laws further raising the bar for libel cases.

Yes, there is some minuscule social good achieved by not talking about celebrity's sex lives2, but that social good is already dwarfed by outing even one anti-gay politician cruising gay bars. It's patently insane though to assert that Hempel and Trafigura should enjoy privacy while poisoning people. Yet, that's exactly what U.K. courts did. And that'll continue so long as you preserve these classist libel laws.

1You'll notice the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative includes and extends U.S. style freedom of speech, btw.

2I'll grant that shielding Bulger's murderers sounds like a good, if exceedingly rare, usage of U.K. libel laws, but "hey even a stopped clock is right twice per day."

posted by jeffburdges at 12:49 AM on May 9, 2011


I'll grant that shielding Bulger's murderers sounds like a good, if exceedingly rare, usage of U.K. libel laws

What does the Bulger case have to do with libel laws?
posted by grouse at 12:56 AM on May 9, 2011


Why are we talking about these laws in class terms? Gordon Ramsey is not an aristocrat; Prince Charles did not hide his affair with Camilla behind a super injunction. It's about money and power, not class. I'd have thought that Americans, of all people, would get this.
posted by londonmark at 1:14 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I look at the stories that have supposedly been suppressed I see 6 front pages of the News Of The World (instead of what they have to do now - 5 year old pictures of Pippa Middleton, and more stuff about the ever-obliging Jordan).

I don't think that these stories are in any way important. They're just embarrassing for those concerned, and liable to damage their future earnings. That's it.

The ones I feel sorry for are the ones who haven't done anything illegal (in fact I think only two allegations concern breaking the law), and also aren't wealthy enough to sit it out for a few years without working. Although they should have thought of that before they brought the actions.

(The stories aren't just out there in twitter either - you can find them hosted on blogger very easily, and on supposedly moderated forums like Mumsnet)
posted by DanCall at 2:42 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's about money and power, not class. I'd have thought that Americans, of all people, would get this.

How so? Money and class are nearly synonymous, here. For example, the term "middle class" corresponds to a particular range of income levels.
posted by ryanrs at 2:48 AM on May 9, 2011


They might merely be used to hide tawdry details of one's personal life now, but I'd think it only a matter of time before more substantial exploitations are found.

It's a matter of negative time. The Trafigura case had nothing to do with celebrities' private lives.
posted by rory at 3:10 AM on May 9, 2011


Super-injunctions and libel laws are separate things. From here, for example:
An injunction is a court order restraining someone from doing something (in the jargon “a prohibitory inunction”) or, sometimes, ordering them to do something (in the jargon “a mandatory injunction”). An injunction can be granted after a trial (“a final injunction”) or before a trial to protect the rights of a person until a trial can take place (“an interim injunction”). Under the so-called “Spycatcher principle”, an interim injunction binds anyone who has notice of it: anyone who is aware of its terms.

In English law, final injunctions preventing publication of libels are routinely granted to successful claimants after a trial but interim injunctions are almost unheard of (because of the operation of the rule against prior restraint – the so-called “rule in Bonnard v Perryman). This means that super-injunctions have nothing to do with libel reform. As far as we are aware, no one has ever suggested that a “super-injunction” has ever been granted in a libel case. This is sometimes an area of confusion.
The Trafigura case is a bit more tangled because Carter-Ruck were threatening to sue for libel, and obtaining an injunction on the Guardian publishing an internal Trafigura report on their toxic waste dumping, and obtaining a super-injunction on anyone reporting that the injunction was in place, specifically preventing the Guardian from reporting on an MP's question about it in Parliament. The original injunction wasn't about libel, though, but about breach of confidence (re: the Trafigura report as an internal document). So yeah, sometimes they're all part of the same big messy picture, but even then they're separate parts of the big messy picture; you could totally overhaul the England & Wales libel laws and still be dealing with super-injunctions as an issue in their own right.
posted by Catseye at 3:31 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


boubelium : The classic response is to point out that even in America I can't falsely yell fire in a crowded theatre. That is totally a violation of the basic principle of freedom of expression, yet an obviously sensible curtailment of speech.

Not entirely true. Some cities have codes banning that particular utterance, which may or may not hold up in a court as unconstitutional. That said, inciting a riot does break the law without directly encroaching on our freedom of speech, and the specifics of how someone goes about doing that don't much matter.

In the US, we really do have relatively few limitations to our freedom of speech. Other than advertisements, sedition, and the DCYF's circle of injunction-happy judges, we have temporary court-ordered limitations to ensure fair trials, and we have laws against the consequences of our actions.

So to me, I find the concept of a "super-injunction" completely antithetical to the idea of a free people.
posted by pla at 3:32 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


How so? Money and class are nearly synonymous, here. For example, the term "middle class" corresponds to a particular range of income levels.

It's odd to me that an American would view this in class terms because you as a nation are very used to the idea of money securing privilege and yet do not frame your own debates in class terms. You might use the term "middle class" a lot in public debate, but I do not see that you have a comparable notion of working class or upper class (these terms are becoming increasingly meaningless in Europe too, but carry a lot of baggage beyond income level). In fact, as an outside observer, I see a county that is very proudly "classless". At best, there is an acknowledgement of an American "elite" but even that is outside of the European notion of class and conforms more closely to your self-view as a meritocracy.
posted by londonmark at 3:34 AM on May 9, 2011


It's about money and power, not class. I'd have thought that Americans, of all people, would get this.
How so? Money and class are nearly synonymous, here. For example, the term "middle class" corresponds to a particular range of income levels.


Exactly. In fact, Americans often don't understand the British class system for this reason. Americans tend to assume that being upper class is all about income (as it mostly is in the U.S.), but that's definitely not the case in the U.K.
posted by klausness at 3:59 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm going to do something that I expect to be unpopular here and defend some of the UK libel system when compared to the US one. The UK system is skewed to the powerful, but so is the US. Fox News has the "right" to lie on air. And because your libel laws are anaemic, there is no one to hold them to account. The injured parties are those libelled - but without a libel law that means something the injured party has no redress unless they are as powerful as the people who buy ink by the gallon.

I ultimately see only three options. Government mandated truth boards for the media, effective libel law, or no effective antidote to the public discourse being poisoned by people with less concern for truth than an agenda. I don't think anyone wants #1. Britain chose #2 and is taking it too far. America chose #3 and is demonstrating why that's a bad plan too.

And Injunctions and Super-Injunctions are to prevent the media playing a "Gotcha" game. Without the super-injunction, preventing the press publishing something is meaningless - they will simply report on the court case. And if you can't spin the reporting of a court case to make either side look guilty as you choose, you aren't trying.

That said, I'm not going to defend the judgements of and precidents set by Mr Justice Eady who in a very unusual move was replaced as senior libel judge in Britain. Or most of the record of the legal firm Private Eye calls Carter Fuck.
posted by Francis at 4:12 AM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Seems like the Oregon Treaty was signed in 1846, so I'm not sure why Matt would be at risk.
Because the lawyers involved in this are the most expensive and vicious we have here, and I wouldn't put any time-consuming ruse past them. Our courts are already good at prosecuting Americans in absentia, especially when suit is pressed by libel tourists.
posted by bonaldi at 4:15 AM on May 9, 2011


I'd rephrase that statement as "British libel laws are an ongoing pernicious influence of the historical British class system". In other words, libel laws were created to protect the toffs from the pleeb's press, but now they just protect the rich & powerful. Yes, the applicable notion of social class has moved from the British notion to the American notion formalized by Karl Marxist, but that offers no redeeming quality for the libel laws.

There isn't any reason to imagine that British libel laws would even slow down Fox news, although some other U.K. media laws might. Firstly, they spew non-libelous lies all day long, ala global warming denial. Secondly, Fox's viewers would happily believe that any libel suits were proof of persecution by the plaintiff. And Fox could trivially fight & delay cases until people lost interest.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:42 AM on May 9, 2011


I mearly meant to point out that class/money (take your pick) is irrelevant here. Yes, class/money is incredibly important, but it's not like privacy is the only thing that large piles of cash/powerful connections/status can help improve. Let's not forget these people are only interesting to the press (and by implication, the rest of us) because of their large piles of cash/powerful connections/status. I can't afford a super injunction, but also I don't need one.
posted by londonmark at 5:04 AM on May 9, 2011




I'm afraid money is extremely important to any party to a lawsuit. There is for example a whole industry of legal extortion created by the RIAA/MPAA based upon the principle that people who get sued just pay up rather than fight the case.

You level the playing field for rich & poor by preventing the courts from ever becoming involved except when actually necessary, like when the big guy has wronged the little guy, i.e. U.S. style freedom of speech, strong anti-SLAPP laws, etc.

In particular, all countries should establish the precedent that privacy protections only apply to private individuals, not government officials preforming their duties, probably not people whose careers depends upon name recognition, not organizations, who get trade secrets, NDAs, etc. instead.

Afaik, there isn't really any good reason why society should care whether people gossip about celebrity's sex lives either. Yes, it's a banal & stupid topic of conversation, but that's no reason for hosting a moral panic.

Aiui, there is an enormous difference in U.S. law between libel against a famous person and libel against an ordinary person, specifically : Fame itself revokes almost all your libel protections. Yet, ordinary people actually have reasonable protections against harassment through media organizations, well assuming they can afford the lawyer.

posted by jeffburdges at 8:12 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's so much I don't understand about these so-called super-injunctions. The question that occurs to me immediately is: Why does one person get to control the narrative? In a scenario where a married man with a career in the public eye has an affair with another woman, why is he able to purchase a gagging order which presumably impinges not only on the press, but also on the other parties? There are at least three players in that story—why is he the only one who gets to decide if it's told or not? If the woman he's had an affair with wants to write a blog post about the relationship, or a memoir in which he's mentioned as a lover, will the super-injunction prevent her from talking freely about her own life? If so, how is this just?

I'm as disgusted as the next person with the UK tabloids' prurient exploitation of celebrity's personal lives, but I'm not convinced this is the solution. Interestingly, 'Mark Stephens, a senior media lawyer at Finers Stephens Innocent, told the Guardian: "This is discriminatory justice: not one single woman has sought or obtained a superinjunction."'.
posted by hot soup girl at 9:10 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are super-injunctions ever enforced against parties other than the original defendant? Do the super-injunctions generally have an expiration date, after which the defendant is allowed to publicly complain about their shabby treatment?
posted by ryanrs at 9:47 AM on May 9, 2011


Derail: People wishing to attack Fox News Channel should feel free to do so, for things Fox News Channel has actually done. A legal dispute between the Fox-owned affiliate station in Tampa and a former employee doesn't really have much relevance.
posted by evilcolonel at 11:45 AM on May 9, 2011


Max Farquar seems up todate with who's superinjuncting whom.

His website has been taken down.
posted by Jehan at 2:35 PM on May 9, 2011


@MaxFarquar on Twitter:
Apologies for the site going down. We're on to it. Bandwidth creamed again. Nothing sinister. Probably. #superinjunction
posted by grouse at 2:43 PM on May 9, 2011


FWIW, his site is hosted in the US.
posted by ryanrs at 2:45 PM on May 9, 2011


Ah, that's good then. I just read a couple of articles concerning the superinjunction leaks and was slightly alarmed that the site got disappeared.
posted by Jehan at 2:51 PM on May 9, 2011


American readers may not be fully aware of the toxic effect that the tabloid press (by which I mean the Murdoch press in particular) has had on public life here in the UK. These are not valiant crusaders for press freedom. Nor are they just trashy National Enquirer-type sex-and-scandal sheets. These are newspapers that routinely break the law and use bribery, blackmail, and intimidation to prevent any enquiry into their activities. The issue here is not that some celebrities are trying to gag the press. The issue is that some newspaper editors think they are above the law.

Roy Greenslade, writing in the Guardian, gets it right:

Too many newspaper editors, including those from the serious end of the market, seem to believe that this is a gross inhibition of press freedom. It is no such thing. It is the natural consequence of unwarranted tabloid intrusion into the bedrooms of assorted celebrities and, as such, does not threaten the pursuit of proper journalism.
posted by verstegan at 3:48 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing is, this has drawn much more attention to the stories in question than if they'd just fizzled out in a tabloid. One of them - concerning an individual's sexual proclivities - is a good case for the right to privacy. Thousands of people enjoy all kinds of unconventional sexual behaviour and it is nobody's business, even if you are a celebrity.

re the Bulger case being an example of getting it right - there was also another story a few years ago concerning the child of a powerful figure. The media, even those unsympathetic to this figure, didn't report on it, and I now think it was less a gentleman's agreement than a gagging order. Quite rightly, too - it was about a child. Even on the news talkboard I posted on then, where libel was thrown around to such abandon that you could get banned for mentioning John Leslie or Jimmy Saville (and there was a completely fabricated story about Eamonn Holmes and pissing that became a trope) any attempts to discuss it and claim it as 'news' were shut down - not by the mods, but by other users.
posted by mippy at 3:15 AM on May 10, 2011




reboot
posted by jeffburdges at 5:24 AM on May 22, 2011


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