Tiger Woods's gagging order will backfire

In this internet age any injunction is self-defeating

Tiger Woods's injunction against the British press has once again made the UK the laughing stock of the world when it comes to free speech. It's remarkable that Woods and his lawyers have embarked on this self-defeating course of action.

The pragmatic case against the injunction is that in the age of the internet any gag is destined to fail on its own terms. As the humiliating experience of Trafigura and Carter-Ruck demonstrated, injunctions only succeed in drawing attention to the story the claimant is attempting to suppress.

Under the terms of the injunction (which was immediately published on the celebrity website TMZ), the New Statesman, like other titles, is banned even from discussing the nature of any material that might be subject to the court order. But that hasn't stopped a network of anonymous bloggers from doing so.

The principled case against the injunction is that Woods lost his right to privacy by actively presenting himself as a role model. He built a $1bn brand around his image as a clean-cut, honest and virtuous individual.

"I think it's an honour to be a role model," he once said. "If you are given a chance to be a role model, I think you should always take it because you can influence a person's life in a positive light, and that's what I want to do."

Moreover, by publicly admitting to "trangressions" (an action he now surely regrets), he gave credibility to the media's lurid accounts of his sex life.

Woods would not have dared seek an injunction in the United States, where the First Amendment guarantees free speech. But in Britain, where Mr Justice Eady's one-man war on free expression continues, he predictably succeeded.

In our leader last week, we warned that Britain's draconian libel laws had made it the "destination of choice for oligarchs and plutocrats who wish to evade scrutiny and intimidate their opponents". To that list we can now add philandering celebrities.

Jack Straw has pledged to reform the system radically and tackle the growth of "libel tourism". After this latest embarrassment, he must act with greater haste.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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“It was like a religious ceremony”: What happened at Big Ben’s final bong?

Both inside and outside Parliament, people gathered to hear the clock’s final midday chime before undergoing repairs.

“It’s just hacks everywhere,” a photographer sighs, jamming his lens through a gap in Parliament’s railings to try and get a closer look.

New Palace Yard, Parliament’s courtyard directly below Big Ben, is filling with amused-looking journalists, waiting for the MPs who have promised to hold a “silent vigil”, heads bowed, to mark Big Ben’s final chime before four years of silence while the tower’s repaired.

About four of them turn up. Two by accident.

It’s five minutes to twelve. Tourists are gathering outside Westminster Tube, as tourists do best. A bigger crowd fills Parliament Square. More people than expected congregate outside, even if it’s the opposite within the Palace. The world and his phone are gazing up at the sad, resigned clock face.


“It’s quite controversial, isn’t it?” one elderly woman in an anorak asks her friend. They shrug and walk off. “Do you know what is this?” an Italian tourist politely asks the tiny press pack, gesturing to the courtyard. No one replies. It’s a good question.

“This is the last time,” says another tourist, elated, Instagram-poised.

“DING DONG DING DONG,” the old bell begins.

Heads down, phones up.


It finishes the on-the-hour tune for the last time, and then gives its much-anticipated resignation statement:

“BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG.”

Applause, cheers, and even some tears.


But while the silly-seasoned journalists snigger, the crowd is enthusiastic.

“It’s quite emotional,” says David Lear, a 52-year-old carer from Essex, who came up to London today with his work and waited 45 minutes beneath Big Ben to hear it chime.

He feels “very, very sad” that the bell is falling silent, and finds the MPs’ vigil respectful. “I think lots of people feel quite strongly about it. I don’t know why they’re doing it. During the war it carries on, and then they turn it off for a health and safety reason.”

“I don’t know why they can’t have some speakers half way down it and just play the chime,” he adds. “So many tourists come especially to listen to the chime, they gather round here, getting ready for it to go – and they’re going to switch it off. It’s crazy.”

Indeed, most of the surrounding crowd appears to be made up of tourists. “I think that it was gorgeous, because I’ve never heard him,” smiles Cora, an 18-year-old German tourist. “It was a great experience.”

An Australian couple in their sixties called Jane and Gary are visiting London for a week. “It was like a religious ceremony, everybody went quiet,” laughs Gary. “I hope they don’t forget where they put the keys to start it again in four years’ time.”

“When we first got here, the first thing we did was come to see it,” adds Jane, who is also positive about the MPs who turned up to watch. “I think it’s good they showed a bit of respect. Because they don’t usually show much respect, do they?”

And, as MPs mouthing off about Big Ben are challenged on their contrasting reactions to Grenfell, that is precisely the problem with an otherwise innocent show of sentimentality.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.