It's been a confusing week for press freedom. Naomi Campbell won her court case against The Mirror and was awarded modest damages of £3,500. Garry Flitcroft, the Premiership footballer who has been fighting to keep his name out of the Sunday People, lost his when a judge refused a last-minute plea that his identity should be kept secret; Lord Woolf's ruling means that newspapers are free to write about his extra-marital affairs with a lap dancer and a nursery teacher. Taken together, the two rulings look very much like a score-draw, with the law of confidentiality upheld – Mr Justice Morland decided that The Mirror was entitled to report Campbell's drug use, which she had lied about, but not details of her treatment – while the latest attempt to extend a right to privacy has been successfully resisted.
But is this really about freedom of expression? Earlier this month, when the Appeal Court first found in favour of the Sunday People, the judges ruled that an injunction forbidding publication would be "an unjustifiable interference with the freedom of the press". But Lord Woolf's acknowledgement on Thursday that any further delay in identifying Flitcroft would damage the Sunday People's interests has introduced another element in the story: the way in which private life has been turned into a saleable commodity. Even more explicitly, the judge remarked that "the only party who will be disadvantaged if the stay is continued is the People newspaper". They had a valuable property, he appeared to suggest, and should not be prevented from benefiting from it.
Naturally editors do not like to admit this is why they buy kiss- and-tell stories or send photographers to snap famous people who have sought treatment for drug addiction. Indeed the editor of The Mirror, Piers Morgan, reacted furiously to Campbell's court victory, declaring that even before the supermodel went to court, "we had become sickened by showbusiness stars who hungered for publicity, abused the media for their own ends, and then whined when something appeared which they did not like". I wasn't previously aware that media abuse was something done to newspaper editors by members of the public rather than the other way round. But The Mirror demonstrated its aversion to celebrity drivel by revealing on the same day that another model, Sophie Dahl, has a new boyfriend.
There is a great deal of humbug in this high-toned debate. It touches on the hubris of celebrities, who foolishly assume it is possible to invite the tabloids into the most intimate areas of their lives and eject them at will. By going to court, Campbell has suffered great damage to her reputation and been exposed to tabloid values at their worst: Morgan called her a "lying drug abuser" and "a washed-up old has-been". But the problem is not just that confessional stars erode public sympathy. It is that by talking to the tabloids, they reinforce the arrogant assumption of editors that invading private life is their inalienable right. What goes for supermodels and footballers is then taken to hold for people with high-profile jobs, such as Commander Brian Paddick.
The worst sin in this perverse moral universe is not adultery, using recreational drugs or same-sex relationships – although they are all frowned upon, in accordance with a social agenda that has changed little since the 1950s – but failing to co-operate with inquisitive hacks. Lying to the tabloids, which might be an eminently sensible thing to do on some occasions, has become a hanging offence. (If you ever read that my father was a Belgian diplomat, who disinherited me when I eloped with my bi-sexual tango teacher, I should take it with a pinch of salt.)
Presumably Campbell concealed her drug use because she was ashamed of it, although she also had the sense to seek treatment from Narcotics Anonymous. What business is that of mine or The Mirror's? Might it not be the case that other famous people have been scared off going for treatment, fearing to discover a snapper with a long lens when they get there? Whatever arguments exist against a new privacy law, they have not been assisted by the tabloids' irresponsible behaviour. Campbell may have recovered from her drug habit, but there is no sign that they are willing to tackle their own addictions to misogyny, ageism and homophobia.
She's no possum
Which brings me once again to Joan Collins and the latest attempt to prove that a woman can't marry a younger man and live happily ever after – or even for five weeks. The Daily Mail published a picture of the actress and her new husband, Percy Gibson, at the post-Oscars party in Los Angeles, cropped to suggest that Collins was looking on miserably as he chatted up a mystery woman. The paper said Collins looked strained as Gibson got "up close and personal" with – an original touch, this – a "lady in red".
The not-so-mysterious woman was Lizzie Spender, daughter of the poet Stephen Spender, and she was with her husband Barry Humphries, who is quite famous in his own right. The paper's staff failed to recognise the Australian actor and lopped him off, prompting Collins to accuse the Mail of running a vendetta against her. At least they didn't claim Gibson was about to run away with that celebrated femme fatale, Dame Edna Everage.
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The death last week of Dudley Moore prompted tributes about the loss of another comic genius. The details of his illness were ghastly, and may have affected the tone of the obituaries. But the dissonance between Moore's behaviour and the reaction of friends and colleagues was striking. One journalist recalled a lunch in Los Angeles in 1991 at which Moore got drunk and repeatedly shrieked the word "cunts" at other diners. This doesn't exactly strike me as hilarious, although it goes some way towards explaining the failure of Moore's career to fulfil its early promise.
A similar mystique surrounds his life as an actor. For someone who has been described as taking Hollywood by storm, Moore made only a handful of films, including the toe-curlingly awful 10. From his earliest days with Peter Cook, his notion of comedy was infantile, cruel and obscene. Those were the hallmarks of a generation of post-war British comics, whose humour had its origins in boys' schools. No one likes to say that it went out of date years ago. It is impossible to read examples of either his, or Spike Milligan's, wit without being reminded of what they had in common: neither of them was funny.
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Hundreds of thousands of people have been left without cash this weekend because of a technical error at Barclays bank. Wages that should have been paid into their accounts on Friday will not arrive until Tuesday, and the error could not have happened at a worse time. Easter is an important date in the spring calendar, marking the moment when families come together to perform the sacred ritual of spending a small fortune at the local DIY store.Reuse content