Can Ned RocknRoll's facebook pictures really be called "private"?

Cat's already out of the bag.

Pictures of Ned RocknRoll taken at a private party were on Facebook for two and half years for all the world - and particularly James Pope’s 1,500 Facebook "friends" - to see. I understand that The Sun found them on a trawl of publicly-viewable Facebook pages. So how can they possibly now be considered private?

To find out we must await publication of Mr Justice Briggs’ reasoning, expected in nine days’ time, for his decision yesterday to uphold an interim privacy injunction first granted last week.

The Sun has paid the price for going to RocknRoll in advance of publication for a comment on 2 January.

The result was for Pope to take the photos down and for RocknRoll, after previously apparently voicing no objection to them being visible to anyone with a computer and the inclination to search for them, has deemed them to be private.

The Sun argued that they were in the public interest because RocknRoll was a public figure after marrying the actress Kate Winslet and because he had sold photographs of a previous wedding to Hello! Magazine.

To take a proper view on whether publication is in the public interest one would need to know exactly what it was RocknRoll was doing that he is now so keen to hide.

But it seems to me that in this case the public interest argument is probably a bit thin and in any case irrelevent.

Newspapers and broadcasters regularly publish all manner of material which cannot remotely be said to fulfil any legal definition of the ‘public interest’. They would be very dry publications and news programmes if they purely confined themselves to material which was deemed to serve some public good.

So the question with Ned RocknRoll isn’t whether publication was in the public interest, but whether the pics constituted a breach of his privacy.

After being viewed by up to 1,500 Facebook "friends", and many more people on the wider internet besides, I would argue that the cat was out of the bag on that one and privacy doesn’t come into it.

Copyright is another question, not the subject of last week’s injunction.

But it is worth noting that when you publish a photograph on a publicly-viewable Facebook page – Facebook’s own terms and conditions are  very clear in warning that you are making it public property.

They state: “When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).”

This case isn't going to become a touchstone for press freedom. As far as I'm concerned RocknRoll could have daubed himself in pigs' blood and proclaimed his eternal loyalty to Satan at that fancy dress party two years ago and it would be his own affair and nothing to do with me (he didn't, I'm just making a point).

But once pictures have been viewed more than a thousand times online without complaint, can they really still be considered "private"?

This blog first appeared on Press Gazette

Ned RocknRoll recently marries Kate Winslet. Photograph: Getty Images

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

Photo: Getty
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Who'll win the Richmond Park by-election?

There are three known unknowns that will decide the contest. 

It’s official: Zac Goldsmith has resigned as the Conservative MP for his Richmond Park seat, and has triggered a by-election there, where he will stand as an independent candidate.

Will it be a two-way or a three-way race?

The big question is whether the contest will be a three way fight between him, the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, and an official Conservative candidate, or if CCHQ will decide to write the thing off and not field a candidate, making it a two-horse race between Goldsmith and Olney.

There are several Tory MPs who are of the opinion that, given that latitude to disagree on Heathrow has been granted to two Cabinet ministers, Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, similar leeway should be extended to Goldsmith. It’s win-win for Downing Street not to contest it, partly because doing so would put anti-Heathrow MPs, including Johnson and Greening, in an impossible position. Theresa May isn’t averse to putting Johnson in a tricky spot, but Greening was an early supporter of her leadership bid, so her interests come fairly high up the prime ministerial radar.

But the second reason not to contest it is that Goldsmith’s chances of re-election will be put in a serious jeopardy if there is a Tory candidate in the race. Everything from the local elections in May or the Liberal mini-revival since Brexit indicates that in a three-way race, they will start as heavy favourites, and if a three-way race results in a Liberal Democrat win there will be bloodletting.

Although people are talking up Goldsmith’s personal vote, I can find little hard evidence that he has one worth writing home about. His performance in the wards of Richmond Park in the mayoral election was actually a bit worse than the overall Tory performance in London.  (Boris Johnson didn’t have a London seat so we cannot compare like-for-like, but Sadiq Khan did four points better in Tooting than he did across London and significantly outperformed his general election performance there.) He did get a big swing from Liberal to Conservative at the general election, but big swings from the Liberal candidate to the Tory were a general feature of the night, and I’m not wholly convinced, given his performance in Richmond Park in 2016, that it can be laid at Goldsmith’s door.

If he wins, it’ll be because he was the Conservative candidate, rather than through any particular affection for him personally.

But will being the Conservative candidate be enough?

Although on paper, he inherits a healthy majority. So did Robert Courts, the new MP for Witney, and he saw it fall by 19 points, with the Liberal Democrats storming from fourth to second place. Although Goldsmith could, just about, survive a fall of that magnitude, there are reasons to believe it may be worse in Richmond Park than Witney.

The first is that we already know, not just from Witney but from local council by-elections, that the Liberal Democrats can hurt the Conservatives in affluent areas that backed a Remain vote. But in Witney, they barely squeezed the Labour vote, which went down by just over two points, or the Green vote, which went down by just under two points. If in Richmond Park, they can both damage the Tory vote thanks to Brexit and squeeze Labour and the Greens, they will win.

Goldsmith's dog-whistle campaign for the London mayoralty will particularly help squeeze the Labour vote, and thanks to Witney, the Liberal Democrats have a ready-made squeeze message. (In Witney, Green and Labour votes would have been more than enough to elect Liz Leffman, the Liberal candidate.)

But their good performance in Witney and Goldsmith's mayoral result may not be enough on their own.  Ultimately, the contest will come down to the big question that will decide not just the outcome in Richmond Park but the future of the Liberal Democrats.

Have the voters forgiven the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition?

We know that Brexit can help the Liberal Democrats at the direct expense of the Conservatives. What we don’t know is if Brexit is enough to convince 6,000 Labour voters in Bath to vote tactically to get Ben Howlett out in exchange for a Lib Dem, or for 7,500 Labour voters to back a Liberal candidate in Hazel Grove to defeat William Wragg.

One of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats lost votes directly to the Tories in 2015 was fear: of uncertainty and chaos under an Ed Miliband government propped up by the SNP. That factor is less live in a by-election but has been further weakened due to the fact that Brexit – at least as far as Remain-backing Conservatives are concerned – has brought just as much uncertainty and chaos as Miliband and the SNP ever would have.

But the other reason was disgust at the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition with the Conservatives. If they can’t win over enough votes from the parties of the left, we’ll know that the party still has a way to come before we can truly speak of a Liberal revival. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.