Stephen Glover on the Press

Is the freedom of the press at risk because of J K Rowling?
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Last week three appeal court judges delivered an apparently unexceptionable judgment in favour of J K Rowling, her husband and her son. At a closer look it could transform the law on privacy.

Nine months ago I wrote about the same case after Mr Justice Patten found against Ms Rowling and her husband, Dr Neil Murray, in the High Court. They had complained on behalf of their son, David. In 2004, a photographer had taken a picture of him when he was less than two years old without him or his parents being aware.

It appeared in the Sunday Express magazine, along with some thoughts by J K Rowling, which she had in fact uttered some years earlier about another child. This was a dishonest piece of journalism. What really got the novelist’s goat, though, was the invasion of her child’s privacy. The Sunday Express capitulated, but Big Pictures (UK) Limited, which had handled the picture, fought its corner.

Mr Justice Patten sensibly said that it was not normally an infringement of privacy to take a photograph in a public place without the permission of the subject. There were exceptions: another court had ruled in favour of the model Naomi Campbell after she had been photographed in the street attending a rehab clinic because a piece of private information that she might reasonably have wished to have kept secret had been revealed. However, the judge declared that ‘the law does not in my judgment (as it stands) allow [parents] to carve out a press-free zone for their children in respect of absolutely everything.’

The three appeal court judges, headed by the master of the rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, disagree with him. According to Sir Anthony: “If a child of parents who are not in the public eye could reasonably expect not to have photographs of him published in the media, so too should the child of a famous parent.”

This seems fair. Why should the Rowling child be paraded in a newspaper through no choice of his own? There was no conceivable public interest defence in running this picture. It was sheer nosiness on the part of the Sunday Express. Moreover, one can imagine that publishing the mugshots of children of multimillionaires might put them at risk of kidnapping, though the crime is rare in this country. Many newspapers already ‘pixellate’ the faces of young children.

And yet one is struck by the remark of J K Rowling’s solicitor, Keith Schilling, whose firm has been making the running in trying to create a privacy law under Article Eight of the Human Rights Act. Mr Schilling says that “this case is a major development in the law of privacy in this country”. Is he only thinking of children, in which case I am not worried, or is he thinking of “celebrities” and leading politicians, in which case I am?

A starlet who believes she should control her image may object if she is photographed looking like the back end of a bus. A cabinet minister climbing out of a brothel window may say that it is not our business. Once it is established that people have privacy rights in a public place that are equal to their rights in a private place, all sorts of photographs and reports may be prohibited. Be in no doubt that there are lawyers and sympathetic judges striving to establish a privacy law that goes much further than protecting children.

Why ‘The Guardian’ needs to say sorry properly

I am still shaking my head in wonderment at The Guardian’s recent voluminous reappraisal of its allegations against Tesco. They have certainly got chutzpah.

Essentially the newspaper said that it had wrongly accused Tesco of avoiding corporation tax instead of stamp duty land tax, and may have exaggerated Tesco’s potential avoidance of tax by a factor of 10. But it managed to do this in a lofty way that implied that Tesco was still very much at fault. Moreover, it failed to mention that its own parent company has been involved in a similar tax avoidance wheeze.

Unsurprisingly, Tesco has so far not withdrawn its writ against the newspaper.

My guess is that it will not do so until or unless The Guardian is prepared to eat rather more of the humble pie which it has so far only nibbled.

This the paper will find difficult to do.

In a dumbed down world, a new voice is welcome

When serious journalism is apparently in retreat, and the printed word is supposedly threatened, along comes a band of people to launch a new intellectual monthly magazine.

On 29 May, Standpoint will hit the newsstands. It will be a centre-right alternative to Prospect, though its editor, Daniel Johnson, stresses its eclecticism. Writers will be united by a mission “to celebrate and defend western civilisation.” Prospective adversaries include radical Islam, China and Russia.

Mr Johnson invokes Encounter, launched in 1953 with Stephen Spender and Irving Kristol as its co-editors, as Standpoint’s intellectual parent. Encounter was a liberal, anti-communist magazine. Though it was highly influential, it struggled to make ends meet, and was later covertly supported by the CIA.

Therein lies the difficulty. After 13 years, Prospect is still fighting to break even, though last week two very wealthy City investors effectively took it over, which may indicate that they think it has a commercial future. Standpoint has the advantage of having charitable status since it is being published by the Social Affairs Unit. This means it will have to eschew political party allegiances, which is no bad thing.

Mr Johnson says there is enough funding for two years. Breakeven is said to be 30,000 copies, which sounds about right to me. Undoubtedly it faces a long, rocky road, and is bound to need more funding, just as Prospect has been refinanced several times.

Can it succeed? It will have to live up to its billing as a new cultural beacon of the centre-right. Even then it is anyone’s guess as to whether there are 30,000 people out there prepared to pay £4.50 a month. But anyone who cares about the dumbing down of intellectual debate should wish it well – and look forward to the first issue.