Realpolitik (see also Political realism; from German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism.
"Manchmal werden Leute den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen."

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

018 - No privacy for the poor: Super-injunctions create divisions in access to privacy between social classes

The recent publication of details regarding a superinjuction taken out by BBC reporter and current affairs presenter Andrew Marr reveal a growing debate over the possibility that court rulings over such gagging orders of the press are in effect shifting the boundaries governing entitlements to privacy vs freedom of speech. Whilst the finer details of Mr Marr's personal affairs are of no value to me whatsoever, the fact that such revelations were initiated by the man himself reveal the rise in debate and growing unease of such issues, and their wider implications on the shifts occurring in modern human rights.

Paradoxical concepts such as free speech and a right to privacy as outlined in the Human Rights Act serve to highlight the risk of a subjective and ambiguous nature in legislation. The issues regarding superinjunctions stem not from a prevention of invading an individual's human right to privacy, but the deliberate censorship of freedom of expression regarding secrecy.

Contradictions between privacy and freedom of speech are highlighted nowhere better than through the application of such superinjuctions, based upon laws which serve to protect those who argue their entitlement to anonymity from the reporting of their secret endeavours under "the right to respect for private and family life" as outlined in Article 8 of the European convention on human rights. David Cameron himself has recently added his opinion to the debate, stating that such court orders made him 'a little uneasy'.

Whilst again I take no interest in the intricate web-weaving of 'celebrity' relationships, any prohibiting of the freedom of the press resulting from their publication must be seen as part of a wider and potentially more damaging picture.

A committee established by the master of the rolls, Lord Neuberger which will analyse the applications of injunctions and super injunctions to inhibit the freedom of the press is scheduled to report its findings at some point next month.

Super injunctions too also highlight an apparent display of power by the financially better off safe in the knowledge that they can broker an agreement to hide their indiscretions, with some gagging-orders reported to have cost the claimants £50,000 or more for the privilege of keeping reporters' lips firmly shut. This acts to prevent papers clamouring over the affair and offering equally considerable amounts for the salivating prospect of breaking such stories first.

According to Wikileaks, "the Guardian [has] been served with 10 secret gag orders between January and September 2009. In 2008, the paper was served with six. In 2007, five. (source) It is believed that many of these injunctions refer to high profile cases involving those able to stump up the fees for the privilege of protecting their privacy.

This creates a dangerous environment where those-who-have become more 'entitled' to privacy from the press than their poorer counterparts by way of financial clout.

This is not the first time that backdoor privileges have been awarded to those with deeper pockets than their peers, and highlights the still somewhat vast divisions between social classes that it seems Whitehall would rather see swept under the carpet.

However does the superinjunction or any form of legal order akin have any place in a society that serves to protect freedom of speech? This is a debatable issue, for instance video evidence and trial during the Allan Chappelow murder case in 2007 shows the potential benefits of press gagging orders in obtaining fair jurisdiction in such cases. A Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate was applied for by the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith 'on the basis of protecting national security interests and to protect the identity of informants'. This was approved by the presiding judge on January 14th 2008, an unprecented move at the time. A further order was then sought under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 resulting in a prohibition of the press from any form of speculation as to the reasons for parts of the trial being held in private. This is thought to be the first occurrence of such injunctions in a court case.

In spite of this such injunctions serving an apparent legal purpose, their application to the cover-up of 'celebrity' indiscretions - which pose no threat to individual or group life security - is setting a dangerous precedent whereby freedom of speech may be curtailed on the demands of the individual(s) concerned. Far be it for the editors of the press to form judgment on whether or not personal information may be published justifiably, though the inevitable costs of acquiring such orders are only serving to further and perpetuate the divide between the still largely two-tiered social class system by curtailing 'access to privacy' for the poor.

A point made by Guardian writer Peter Wilby addresses the non-parliamentary approval of curtailing the right to freedom of speech being one thing as the courts act to rule on issues where parliament has left a legislative void. Curtailing the 'access to privacy' based solely on the ability to afford however it is quite another, and should not be acceptable in a modern democratic society.

- sandlefish -

1 comment:

  1. EDIT: An amusing animation from Taiwanese based NMA TV demonstrates the foreign scale and portrayal of the issue of super-injunctions for the wealthy:


    All credit to NMA TV, Taiwan and @meejalaw on Twitter for the video.