Terence Blacker: We should not grant privacy to celebrity adulterers

Like the ancient gods, the famous act out little parables of human desire and fragility
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The Independent Online

There will have been quiet satisfaction this week within the ranks of the discreet and unofficial community of the nation's adulterers. Of course, everything - or almost everything - tends to be quiet in the world of adultery, but it can be safely assumed that, in bedrooms across the country, faithless lovers will be raising a post-coital glass to the health of Mr Justice Eady.

This week the judge has been adjudicating in a case where a well-known married sports personality, known in court as "CC", was seeking an injunction against unwelcome publicity. CC had been enjoying regular away fixtures with the wife of a man called "AB". When the affair was discovered, AB, rather unattractively, was keen to cash in by selling the story to the press.

The celebrity adulterer argued, with some justification, that to have details of his affair made public would be upsetting for his wife and children at a time when he was trying to rebuild his marriage,and applied for an injunction. The judge granted it. He found no legal precedent in the 19th or 20th centuries, but finally concluded that unofficial indoor sports with another man's wife falls within the right to privacy conditions of the European Court of Human Rights, and that CC should not therefore be unmasked in the press as a heartless love-rat.

Let us be grown-up about this. People cheat on their partners. Sometimes infidelity is a result of weakness; more often it is a symptom of something going wrong in a relationship. Mr Justice Eady's argument is rather bravely based on the assumption that, in the modern world, adultery is not a cause for particular guilt or blame in the breakdown of a marriage. He felt CC deserved another chance without being pilloried in the press.

The reaction of the usual upholders of traditional family values would seem to suggest that the judge got it right. Words like "sin" and "wrongdoing" have been bandied about. One commentator commended the role of the press as a useful, if rough, deterrent to bad behaviour comparable to the stocks in the Middle Ages. A lawyer has been on hand to stoke up the emotional moralising. The judgment amounted to a "cuckolder's charter", Mark Stephens of Finers Stephens and Innocent has said, adding, with a revealing gender bias, that "the law should not permit adulterers to hide behind the skirts of their wives and mistresses - their behaviour should be stripped for public scrutiny."

On one side, a fragile wife, innocent kiddies and a penitent husband with a public reputation; on the other, a vengeful nobody, baying for cash and humiliation, supported by lawyers and the prurient moralisers of the tabloid press: it would, on the face of it, seem as if the right judgment has been made.

In fact, the victory is not for justice but for sentimentality. Impressed by the adulterer, dismayed by the cuckold, Mr Justice Eady has effectively given those in the public eye a right of veto over which aspects of their lives should be made available to the media.

The problem with a judgment which forbids the invasion of a celebrity's privacy is simply that, when it suits them, they do it themselves for reasons of publicity, self-promotion or profit. Being allowed to present a favourable picture of yourself is one of the fringe benefits of fame. You can appear on a reality show to reveal your human side, or answer questions in an interview on the condition that the questions are gently unintrusive and allow you to bathe in soft light of favourable publicity.

Doubtless, should he wish to, CC could pose with Mrs CC and the little CCs for a delightful family feature in one of the many magazines that now exist to help the famous become more famous, and be well paid for the privilege.

The militant wing of the entertainment press may be sleazy and unsavoury as it battens off the various weaknesses of those in the public eye, but it does at least provide a corrective to this prevailing, PR-shaped fantasy. Its clammy-handed journalists and baboon-like paparazzi may have parted company with basic standards of decency but, in their way, they provide a moral lesson. Celebrities, they point out, are human. Not everything in their lives can be controlled by their press office.

Like ancient gods, the famous act out little parables of human desire and frailty for the rest of us. That young rock star is destroying himself with drink. That ageing TV star is too dependent on Botox. Those overpaid footballers are tom-catting in nightclubs when they shouldn't be. Addictions, tantrums, facelifts, divorces, dodgy business deals, moments of arrogance, sycophancy, randiness or unbridled vanity are all part of the flip-side of fame.

But CC, the misbehaving married sportsman, has the wealth and influence to ensure that, with the help of an expensive lawyer, the fantasy version of his private life remains inviolate. Only he and his PR advisers can decide which parts of his private life are suitable for the public gaze.

It may be unpleasant to see someone making money out of someone else's misfortune, and it is undoubtedly tough on CC's wife and children, but there is a greater good to consider. Protecting the right to privacy of famous adulterers is not, as the lawyer claimed, a charter for cuckolders, but it does give even greater power of control to publicists and spin-doctors, who can do incomparably more harm.