Stephen Glover: Would the press have reported Tiger’s sex life if he were British? - Stephen Glover - Opinion - The Independent

Stephen Glover: Would the press have reported Tiger’s sex life if he were British?

Anyone who reads a newspaper will know rather more about the sex life of the golfer Tiger Woods than he or she bargained for, or perhaps wanted. Every newspaper, with the exception of the Financial Times, gave the story wall to wall coverage. Readers of the Guardian and The Times have been provided with almost as much information about Mr Woods' various affairs as readers of the Daily Mail or the Sun.

The interesting question is whether the coverage would have been quite as frank and breathless had the golfer been British. Would Carter-Ruck or Schillings have persuaded some understanding judge that some of it abused his right to privacy? There is a notorious case involving Mr Justice Eady. A prominent figure in the sports world who had had an affair with another man's wife was granted an order by the judge preventing the betrayed husband from naming him in the media. Might a British Mr Woods have been granted an order, for example on the basis that his wife's sanity or his children's well-being was being threatened?

Even as Tiger's sex life was being deconstructed, the same Mr Justice Eady was offering his views about privacy and the Press. Reading his speech is no more enjoyable than swimming through cold semolina. The judge defends himself from the accusation that he has been single-handedly developing a privacy law after the Human Rights Act was incorporated into English law in 2000.

Not at all, he says. For one thing, he was only applying the "balanced approach" favoured by judges in other English courts. For another, even a privacy law enacted by Parliament would have to be interpreted by an individual judge in a particular case. In other words, with or without an act, judges are inevitably involved in the development of privacy law.

Mr Justice Eady remarks how few privacy cases there have recently been. The reason is surely clear. After a series of judgements, nearly all of them made by him, of which the most famous was that involving Max Mosley and the News of the World, newspapers have become wary of publishing stories that might get them into hot water with Mr Justice Eady.

The prevailing tone of his speech was one of serenity bordering on smugness. He does not think it undemocratic that one judge – him – with a particular set of beliefs and prejudices should have played so large a role in developing a privacy law. He loftily discounts the dangers of "libel tourism" whereby wealthy foreigners seek to silence their critics by recourse to accommodating English courts. Happily, the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, takes a different view. Last week he announced that the Government is planning a "radically reduced cap" on the level of fees in successful defamation cases. Let's hope he means it.

I would much rather not have a privacy law at all, but if we must have one let it be first debated by Parliament rather than applied by an individual judge. The reporting of Tiger Woods' sex life obviously did not enrich our democracy. But the existence of judge-made privacy law, as well of restrictive libel laws and huge payouts, is likely to limit the operation of a free Press by leading to the suppression of important stories. I don't see any evidence that Mr Justice Eady cares if this has happened.

An exotic personality cult plans its lavish Yuletide rituals

I have suggested in the past that The Spectator, though to all intents and purposes resembling a weekly political magazine, is in fact a front for a bizarre sect whose purpose is to throw as many lavish parties as possible in honour of its exotic and powerful leader, Andrew Neil.

However, not even I had imagined that this secretive organisation would infiltrate the Christian celebration of Christmas, and take over St Bride's, the journalists' church in Fleet Street. While it is customary for such occasions to be free, or perhaps charge a few pounds, tickets to The Spectator's "carol concert" are an amazing £45 each, including "refreshments", though profits are going to Cancer Research.

Mr Neil, who may be cunningly attired in the dress of a Church of Scotland elder, will be one of several sect members providing "readings", assisted by his compatriot Fraser Nelson, whose day job is editor of the magazine. Even Rod Liddle, who may be wearing a cassock to conceal his t-shirt, has been brought in on the act. My advice to readers brave enough to attend this "carol concert" is to be very careful. All may not be what it seems.

If Heffer has left in a huff he deserves to be given a hefty seat of power

Last week I wondered how the Daily Telegraph's tough new editor, Tony Gallagher, would get on with Tory columnists such as Charles Moore and Simon Heffer. There has now been a rapid response from Mr Heffer.

He has announced that he is taking a sabbatical at his old Cambridge college, Corpus. This may be because he does not relish working alongside Mr Gallagher in the newspaper's offices at Victoria. He may also be upset at not featuring in the Daily Telegraph's reshuffle which saw Mr Gallagher anointed editor and Ben Brogan as deputy editor.

More than most journalists I can think of, the splenetic Mr Heffer has long yearned to be an editor. He was made deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph in 1995 by Conrad Black at the tender age of 35. Little more than a year later there was a round of musical chairs after Max Hastings defected to the London Evening Standard, and when Mr Heffer was not made editor of The Spectator, a job he believed he had been promised by Black, he stomped off to the Daily Mail as a columnist.

In 2005, with ambition still burning, he returned to the Daily Telegraph as associate editor, and started firing rockets in David Cameron's direction. Editors and deputy editors have come and gone, but Mr Heffer, far from advancing towards the editor's chair he craved, seemed rather to slip backwards. The appointment of the younger Mr Brogan to his old job must have been the final straw.

Corpus is his Colombey-Les-Deux-Eglises. The official line is that he will continue writing columns for the Telegraph, and come roaring back in 2011. I should be surprised if he ever returned to Victoria. Can no one find an editor's chair – at this stage of the game it need not be grand, though it must be sturdy – to accommodate Simon Heffer?

scmgox@aol.com

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