Thursday, July 24, 2008

Screws gets caned on privacy

I'm with tonight's Evening Standard on the implications of the Max Mosley BDSM case decision.

Mr Justice Eady reiterated that stories that invade privacy should be 'in the public interest' rather than merely 'of interest to the public'.

This isn't news. Article 3 ii) of the Press Complaints Commission code of practice for journalists already states that:

It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in a private place without
their consent.*

*There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

  1. Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety.
  2. Protecting public health and safety.
  3. Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

Crucially, the court concluded that:

There was no evidence that the gathering was intended to be an
enactment of Nazi behaviour.

Which, so far as I gather, was a key argument the Screws made for the story being in the public interest.

The most obvious implication will be that the red tops will tread carefully around stories purely about the sex for fear of being a***y violated to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

That said, everyone must be vigilant. Privacy is a rapidly evolving area of media law with no firm rules and, coupled with the astronomical costs that can come with no-win, no-fee agreements, many publications are very frightened of mis-stepping. In practice, given the choice between publishing or not publishing something that is 'in the public interest' but could lead to a legal challenge, they will increasingly avoid the risk.

Those privacy campaigners trumpeting Mr Mosley's right to keep his spankings private need to be aware that restrictive legal precedent can cower investigative journalists exposing corruption, malpractice and hypocracy among the rich, powerful and our elected representatives. This case wasn't earth-shattering but others may be. As with everything, there is a balance to be drawn.


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