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Networks R Us

Revelations about celebrities getting their legs over with publicity-seeking tarts don’t interest me very much.  Nor can I share the agitation of many of my media friends on the question of whether judges should or should not grant injunctions to preserve the anonymity of the leg-lifting miscreants. 

Which is not to say that I don’t have an opinion, but I’ll come to that later. 

Meanwhile, certain newspapers, understandably if far from admirably, gorge themselves on the scandalous feast.  Some lawyers are not above stuffing themselves, either, injunctions and their consequences having proved to be a heaven-sent source of lucrative meal tickets.  Agents-in-waiting hover, hungry for scraps.  At this trough there is room for many animals.

As entertainment, the scandal-mongering is pretty degrading stuff, an unappealing appendage to the dismal anti-culture of reality television.  (The lady with whom the Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs had his alleged fling, this week’s cause celebre, is apparently a former contestant on Big Brother).  As for the political debate over the dangers of the muzzling of the press by the courts, and the implied ‘threat’ to the sacred liberty of free speech – blah, blah, blah &etc – all I can say is that there must surely be some more intellectually elevated issue on which to take up the libertarian cudgels now being wielded so vigorously.

To blame the internet, and particularly its social networking offshoot, for presenting us with complex ethical dilemmas we might otherwise have happily ignored is pointless, not to mention nether-worldly.  The power of global networking sites to ignore with impunity either national legislation, or local standards of morality, has long been apparent.  And the web that nurtured them is no culprit, either.  It is, after all, the same medium that has (arguably) encouraged down-trodden people around the world to rise up and overthrow their oppressors – the so-called Arab Spring being the latest such example.

My view – for what it’s worth from a former reporter – is straightforward.  Injunctions such as the one granted to Ryan Giggs, should not be deployed except in extreme circumstances, which clearly would not include lascivious, and possibly fantastical, tabloid tales by starlets, hookers and groupies seeking to cash in on a night or two of passion with someone famous.  To say that reverting to the status quo would leave the poor celebrities defenseless is to ignore the fact that they would have recourse to the law, as always, if they felt they had been unfairly maligned or libeled.  The papers, for their part, would be required to exercise the same sense of decency – not to mention the presumably ingrained agility in avoiding the laws of libel – that has always been required of them.  As for the social networks, they will carry on as before, because there is no way to control them and no reason to.  There are no ‘they’ – just their adherents, otherwise known as We The Public.  Networks R Us. 

However sad it may be that inconsequential gossip is what the reading public evidently wants to read, and propagate, that is no reason to suppress it. 

At the end of the day, to borrow from the radio call-in vernacular, I can only wish the whole sleazy caravansary – priapic footballers, opportunistic tarts, air-headed wags, trash-peddling tabloids, carnivorous lawyers and mealy-mouthed politicians – nothing but the grief they’ve brought down on themselves. 

Esher, Surrey

May 23, 2011

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