The now-famous PJS super-injunction truly is journalistic gold.
First of all we have PJS, a mysterious celebrity whose extra-marital threesome is the main subject of the controversy. Rather than accepting his fate with dignity, and robustly pointing out that his marriage is his own business, PJS has instead run up £1 million of denial-driven legal fees, magnifying media interest tenfold. A YouGov poll now shows that amid all the commotion, 56% of Britain now know the plaintiff’s identity; a classic case of publicity by protest. He could not have circulated his indiscretions more widely if he had written them on his buttocks and backed up against Rupert Murdoch’s window.
Next, we have AB and CD, a married couple whose ‘oily sex bath’ will soon be plastered across Facebook and Twitter, and whose careers will be damaged/enhanced accordingly. They’ll disappear for a few years before rising, Monica Lewinsky-like, back into the public consciousness. They’ll do a few interviews explaining that it was ‘a difficult time’, before giving grisly details of what PJS liked to put where. Everyone loves a comeback, and they’ll be welcomed back into the fold with open arms.
Then we have the not-so-super-injunction itself, whose resounding impotence has been brutally and systematically exposed by a combination of the internet and the entire foreign press. Its spectacular failure is matched only by the harshness of its conditions, in which English newspapers are not even allowed to name the Scottish newspaper that named the injunction’s subjects. “It is absurd trying to hold back the flow of information in the digital age” said former Lib Dem MP John Hemming, “by using a court order that only goes as far as Hadrian’s Wall”. PJS’ lawyer, on the other hand, has urged caution, warning that the debacle could cause “the death of the celebrity privacy injunction”. Both have a point.
Perhaps worst of all, we have the tabloid press. Over the sounds of clicking cameras and drool hitting the pavement you can just about hear the cries of ‘free speech’, as the latest flock of crazy-eyed paparazzi prepare for their scoop like an executioner tying his rope. Miley Cyrus hasn’t had that touted breakdown yet and Princess Charlotte isn’t old enough for long-lens topless shots, so PJS’ marital problems must seem mana from heaven.
Finally we have the public, whose role it is to keep these bacterial lowlifes in their jobs. The unsavoury sordidness of the whole affair needs no amplification, but it has nonetheless been ably provided by a slew of online analyses ranging from wild and libellous conjecture to cruel and unnecessary discussions of PJS’ children.
The only player to have retained a shred of integrity is the court itself, which has wearily expounded on the difficulties of protecting individuals, whilst quietly explaining to PJS in the kindest legal jargon possible that the cat is firmly out of the bag. Not since Boaty McBoatface has the British press been blessed with such a fabulously ridiculous news story. What a bloody mess.
However, crawling from the ashes of this bonfire of the vanities, a few serious points emerge. First, it has highlighted the serious limitations of the law when protecting international celebrities. Four years on from the Leveson Enquiry the battle between privacy and press freedom still burns strong; only last month Hulk Hogan was awarded $115 million after celeb-site Gawker leaked a sex tape of his affair with a friend’s estranged wife. He got his settlement (and more), but even the PJS judge has acknowledged that in the age of global mass media, instant online publications and revenge porn, privacy is an extremely difficult right to defend.
It’s sad yet oddly fitting that these landmark legal cases usually concern the most odious of participants: washed-up celebs with heavy consciences and dubious morals, and websites or papers whose desperate commercial vicariousness is often far seedier than the most deviant of sex scandals. As Henry Kissinger once said (discussing the Iran-Iraq War); “can’t they both lose?”
I’d love to say that none of this nonsense was within the realms of ‘public interest’, but unfortunately the public seem to very ‘interested’ indeed. Every such court case fights for our right to point, gape, titter and judge – activities that cultish celeb readerships take up with gusto. If we became a little less interested in the lives of people who don’t know us and never will – denying the oxygen of publicity to both the celebs and their stalking snappers – then perhaps both sides could ‘lose’ after all.
So my advice to PJS is that he should stop trying to flog the long-since-bolted horse – seriously, in the interests of the nation – but I reserve particular bile for the several thousand, parasitic Hello!-subscribers who avidly followed the Daily Mirror’s live tweeting. This really is none of your business. Go have some extra-marital threesomes of your own.