Max Mosley is trying to make UK newspapers and magazines tell the subjects of stories before publication what they are about. He claims this is necessary for those subjects to have their privacy defended.
His lawyers were in the European Court of Human Rights today arguing that the UK should be told to introduce this law. He was opposed by the UK Government. It argued there were enough measures already to make such pre-publication obligations not only unnecessary but also dangerous.
The proceedings, which lasted 1 hr 30 minutes, are well worth seeing by anybody in the media. The limits of privacy are not under discussion. The limits of the press are.
“Journalists as judge and jury”
Mosley was not told by the News of the World that it was running the story of his whipping sessions in case he obtained an injunction. These injunctions, including superinjunctions, are increasingly being granted by English and Welsh courts to stop publication of privacy information. His side argues this shows that the journalists acted as judge and jury on the issue which should have been heard by a court.
The UK Government argued that few countries covered by the Court of Human Rights have such a pre-publication requirement. How would such a requirement be formulated, it asked? Mosley won his case in the privacy case: he got his costs of about £400,000 and damages of about £60,000. And it was revealed that he has won similar actions in Germany and France.
Damages don’t restore privacy
Mosley’s side argued that these damages could not restore his privacy as the information was already public.
It is good journalistic ethics to let subjects have time to comment on stories before publication. It is not good journalistic ethics to let wealthy subjects hamstring the press through the use of injunctions. So here’s the deal: subjects should not be allowed to get pre-publication injunctions as long as the press has to inform them beforehand.
Ofcom gives subjects right to comment before broadcast
I doubt this is the way it will be settled. I thought the UK government won the case on the day. But it does have a big hole in its argument: in broadcasting there is such a legal requirement – for the press there is not. Ofcom has such a pre-broadcast requirement; the PPA code is only advisory and does not have such a requirement.
Max whip gift
I fear we are getting closer to a statuary code for the press which will include penal sanctions. Thanks Max. By the way: his parting gift from the hacks who cover F1 racing when he retired from leading the governing body of the sport was, I am told, a whip from the Queen’s whip maker. At least somebody in this game has a sense of humour.