Stopping at the bedroom door

7 November 2001 – There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth in tabloid newsrooms this week, following the granting by Mr Justice Jack of an injunction which prevents an unnamed newspaper from publishing a “kiss and tell” story about a professional footballer. Can this be the end of celebrity sex journalism as we know it?

The inevitable cries have gone up, deploring this supposed blow to press freedom. But is this really such a blow? All Mr Justice Jack is saying is that media intrusion should stop at the bedroom door, and even then that “The precise ambit of the law’s protection would depend on the circumstances of each case.” In other words, newspapers would still be able to contest an injunction on the grounds of genuine public interest – as opposed to that which is believed to interest the public – and what is so draconian about that? It may mean a delay of a couple of days in publication, but if the public interest is justified it can still be served.

It is noteworthy that among the huge array of public figures whose sexual transgressions have enlivened the tabloids (and boosted their profits) over the past few decades, few if any have been newspaper editors. Is this because they have superior moral standards to those of the celebrities they pillory? Do editors take a vow of abstinence? Are they, perhaps, eunuchs? Or is there a more simple explanation: that like almost everyone else they believe that their private lives are a private matter, and that luckily they are in a position to protect that privacy.

The suggestion that Mr Justice Jack’s ruling will fatally impede investigative reporting hardly bears consideration. What is “investigative” about paying or persuading (or even, on occasion, blackmailing) someone to tell all about their affair with a footballer, rock star or whoever? True investigative reporting has long been on the decline in the British press, largely abandoned because it is held to be expensive, uncertain of result, and at danger from oppressive laws of libel. Perhaps, now that the good judge has cleared some space on the tabloid pages, there will be room for some truly worthwhile investigative material in the genuine public interest.

PressWise applauds this judgement. We believe passionately in press freedom, but we also believe in press responsibility. So, apparently, does Mr Justice Jack.

Bill Norris
Associate Director

(Bulletin No 54)

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