Yesterday’s edition of the Sunday Herald had a picture of a footballer on its front page. Not exactly an unusual occurrence, but this time it has raised a great deal of legal interest.
The player in question, who looked an awful lot like Ryan Giggs to me, is only supposed to be identified as CTB. This is because of a so called super injunction covering allegations of an alleged affair with someone called Imogen Thomas, who apparently used to be on Big Brother.
Now I really don’t care greatly who either one of these people chooses to sleep with. And I wouldn’t know Imogen Thomas if I walked past her in the street.
But it does seem crazy that anyone with access to Twitter can find out the identity of the footballer, which has been tweeted by tens of thousands of users, but newspapers are supposedly unable to publish his name.
The Sunday Herald had clearly worded its editorial carefully, after consulting with its legal adviser, Paul McBride QC. It said: “We should point out immediately that we are not accusing the footballer concerned of any misdeed. Whether the allegations against him are true or not has no relevance to this debate.
“The issue is one of freedom of information and of a growing argument in favour of more restrictive privacy laws.”
And the editor of the paper, Richard Walker, added that he was not expecting any legal consequences because the injunction was not valid in Scotland – only in England. Today the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, has said he is not actively seeking contempt proceedings against the Sunday Herald.
The cynical would argue that increasing sales also played a part in the Herald’s decision to publish. And the matter gained worldwide attention, with reports on a vast number of web sites. Indeed the interest was so great that the Herald’s own site crashed under the weight of the number of hits it received.
But the decision to publish does bring the privacy debate into sharp focus.
Is there an absolute right to privacy when it comes to the private lives of public figures? Or does the public’s right to know take precedence?
I think there has to be some sort of legal test developed to weigh whether the public actually has a legitimate reason to poke into someone’s personal life or whether the desire is simply a salacious one for celebrity gossip.
If a politician who espouses family values and the sanctity of marriage is found to be playing away from home I would argue that there is a public interest in the story. But can the same be said for someone who has appeared on a reality tv show or indeed a footballer?
Of course it’s not as easy to make law as that. But we have politicians who make law and judges who interpret it – and it is their job to sort things out so that we don’t end up in the kind of mess that has resulted from this story. And a new law must take account of the digital, as well as the printed, media.
So it’s over to parliament to have a full and proper debate on exactly what type of privacy laws we should have in this country.