Mark Oaten: I know what Max Mosley has been going through

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The Independent Online

The moment The News of the World broke the Mosley story, it brought back memories of my own experiences. It's probably pretty obvious that I've been following the case closely, but I never thought he would succeed. The verdict we got on Thursday really was, in my view, a landmark ruling with far-reaching ramifications.

I remember thinking when he brought this law suit that he was probably asking for more trouble than it could possibly be worth. When my scandal broke, of course there were times when I just wanted to take the papers to court and blame everyone else for what happened. But the anger quickly subsides, and it gives you a chance to reflect.

I realised that I was to blame for my own actions, and the sooner I got my head around that the stronger I was for it. In Max Mosley's case, he clearly felt there was a case to be made that what he does in his private life is not of concern to the public. But he is certainly a braver man than I am in taking this on, knowing full well the drama of a court case would play out in the papers daily. And the gamble has paid off for him.

I don't for one minute want to wade into the details of what went on. That's none of my concern. But clearly the judge has taken the view, and in my view the right one, that whatever happened, while being interesting to the public, was not in the public interest. Let's be honest. This is what the red-tops live for – getting the dirt on a public figure. But just because it makes a good read and will sell papers doesn't mean it should be published. We need greater responsibility shown than that.

One compelling reason why these things should be nipped in the bud early is all the rumours that start up. That's one subject about which I feel justified in getting a little angry at times. Of all the stuff that was printed about me, so much was just plain made up. Things are hinted at, "informed sources" reveal all, and before you know it these become facts.

It's frustrating, to say the least, and, while I have thicker skin these days, it isn't easy to turn the other cheek. Some of the things out there about me are just ridiculous and, even though we are three years on, some vile reporters still print totally uncalled-for things. What I did was my fault alone – I haven't ever said anything different – but some people seem intent on taking advantage of that.

And so, if I'm honest, I think this is one of the most positive things to come out of the Mosley verdict. He has a much better chance of stopping these rumours and "newspaper facts" from getting out of hand by acting early. The record has been set straight in court, and if that leads to a little less gossip then all the better.

Now before you think I am just taking this as an opportunity to lay into the press, let me be clear. The papers perform an important function and often hold ministers and government to account far better than any elected opposition can. They bring out a large number of stories that need to be told and debated.

I don't think this verdict will change that. Journalists have been responsible for bringing down ministers and unearthing corruption at the highest level, and there will always be cases that are genuinely in the public interest that deserve exposure. This aspect of the media shouldn't be curbed.

But what the Mosley case has done, in my view, is draw a line in the sand. It's now been said, in a court of law, that editors and reporters owe a greater duty of care to those people involved in a story when they consider its publication. We need responsible journalism, and the press have had their wings clipped a little. That's not the end of the world.

I don't think this is going to lead to a full-blown privacy law. The judge's ruling will lay down some guidelines, but there are enough shades of grey to give the press some wriggle room. There will be a need to define further where someone's private life stops and the public interest begins. And the award of £60,000 in damages is perhaps too low to dissuade newspapers if they think printing a story will make them more money than a court case will cost. I would have liked to see a higher sum to let the media know that real financial penalties will be incurred if they step over the line. We can't have it making economic sense, but it wouldn't surprise me if that becomes a factor in future. Watch this space.

An optimist might hope this results in us doing away with rumour and intrigue. But I am more of a realist. I would predict a few more scandals like this one but, and it's a big but, it may lead to editors thinking twice about what they should put in their papers.

Mark Oaten is the Liberal Democrat MP for Winchester and the Meon Valley, and is standing down at the next election