Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Pressing privacy row rumbles on

Given the revelations which have emerged about the private life of footballer Ryan Giggs since he was unmasked as the person who took out a super injunction to prevent details of an affair with a television reality star being made public, this legal action now seems silly and excessive.

Of course we don't know if the judge who granted the injunction was aware of the subsequent allegations against Giggs. Yet this case shows the dangers of taking arbitrary legal decisions which can later be regarded as bringing the law into disrepute in the court of public opinion.

The tensions between an individual's right to privacy and the right of freedom of expression are obvious. The media is guided by the Press Complaints Commission's code on privacy which some people may feel is too weak. But they also have to remember that the UK has some of the most draconian libel and defamation legislation in the world which the media will trespass at its peril - and substantial cost.

Given the outcry over super injunctions - according to Justice Minister David Ford there are currently four in operation in Northern Ireland - there is a growing clamour to redefine privacy laws. Super injunctions are seen as a legal remedy only available to the rich and can be a blunt - and ineffective - instrument. On this island our sister newspaper could reveal details of a super injunction taken out in this jurisdiction, but this newspaper would be prevented from even referring to it. And, as the Giggs case showed, is there really any control of the information which goes out on the internet?

Privacy laws which would be fair both to individuals and to the public interest would be nearly impossible to frame. The best route could well be to follow the example of US legislators who don't ask why a story should be published, but why it should not be published. At the end of the day if the media cannot substantiate any allegations published then they have to face the wrath of the law - and possibly, the public.

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