The Last Word: Members of the super-injunction club are caught in own rat trap
Sunday 22 August 2010
Elvis probably wasn't referring to a British newspaper when uttering his famous quote, but any English footballers out there considering joining the ever-swelling "special injunction" club may just care to read it as if he was. "Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away."
Of course, their lawyers will be telling them differently, assuring them there is no way The Sun, the Daily Mail, the News of the World, or whichever media outlet is on their case, can break the gagging order, which is approved by a High Court judge. But Presley knew. They're caught in a trap. They can't walk out.
The problem for the love rats is the internet, that bible of the suspicious mind. If it wasn't for the worldwide web rising to its feet at about the same time as the £100,000-a-day barrister, their dirty deeds could be buried for good. Alas, not on this information highway, with all its feeder lanes and means of access. One whisper and it's out there, zooming into the bloodstream of the public consciousness. And when it does go viral, the "sins" will only seem that much worse.
In fact, there are good examples for the advisors of the two latest England internationals to seek salvation in Britain's unofficial privacy law to quote while telling their men to grin and bear it. They only have to look at the recent cases of John Terry and Colin Montgomerie to see how it can all backfire. In January, Terry had one of these "super-injunctions" lifted and then had to watch how his perceived treachery was cast in a yet more sinister light. It's one thing sleeping with your best mate's girl; it's another being accused by a judge of being more concerned with the effect the exposure would have on your finances. Terry wasn't merely viewed as disloyal; he was deemed utterly unrepentant to boot.
Montgomerie's scenario is different, but no less foreboding. The Ryder Cup captain's exploits, or otherwise, with an ex-girlfriend are still rumours; as is the timing of the alleged alliance. But as the story remains officially unwritten, so every piece of sordid speculation continues to be unofficially discussed.
The ridicule is the thing here and it's not just on the postings on the message boards. A note was left on his locker at The Open; jokes have been whispered on the practice putting greens; double entendres have filled the range. Very few know the detail, but, thanks to the court order, everyone believes they can hang the old devil. "You're all having great fun at my expense," so Monty told a hungry press corps in the United States two weeks ago.
And what an expense it must be with the legal might of Schillings fighting his corner. Regardless of the nature of what might, or might not, be suppressed, Monty must be questioning whether the legal expense is worth it. Innocent or guilty of unspecified acts that are certainly not crimes, his image now adorns each and every self-serving article on the burgeoning trend of the sports star to gag the press.
And they are self-serving articles, even this one. The media are caught in a tortuous limbo, just like the defendants. They feel they must write something but don't quite know what it should be. Hence the moral high ground rants, which are frankly hysterical as they transparently fail to disguise the reasons for publication. We can't reveal all the mucky details, but we can cleverly allude to the mucky details by saying nobody has any right to know all the mucky details. Hey presto, another page circumventing the injunction.
Naturally, some claim that they have no wish to know, that they're just interested in the sport. But these are probably the same people who agreed with one journalist the other day who penned his "Monty must not resign" piece – after his newspaper had actually broken the story of the existence of an injunction, complete with an ever-so sensitive wedding picture. As one wag put it: "Monty, please don't go, none of this is any of our business (see pages 1-7)."
But then, the public-interest argument is just as absurd. The theory goes that the football fan has a right to know because any indiscretions by England internationals could have affected the World Cup. Of course, the premise is all arse-backwards. In winning at least six of his majors in the midst of his extra-marital activity, Tiger Woods proved that it was not the adultery which turned him into a hacker, but the exposure of the adultery. The same applies to Terry. He was playing well when nobody knew, and would have played a damned sight better in South Africa if nobody knew.
In light of this it would plainly be in the public interest not to have printed anything whatsoever and to allow Terry to play on, with the onlookers blissfully ignorant. Yet the journalists would not have been doing their jobs since the public – and yes, Wayne Bridge – were interested.
The fan who cares solely about the parts of a footballer's private life which impact on his form on the field is in a tiny minority. There is a zest from the majority to know and the power of that zest means the majority will one day know. And to hell with legal and ethical arguments.
As the intelligentsia bang on about free speech and draconian privacy laws on one hand and an individual's right to privacy on the other, the columns seem to be locked in a Rain Man-like conundrum where it is accepted that not only do the public not have the right to know, but that the superstars have no right to stop the public from knowing. And all the while, the inquisitive tap away on Google, eventually satisfying their curiosity anyway. Just another ludicrous subplot in the soap opera. Nobody wins. Except Max Clifford and the lawyers, of course.
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