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18 December 2014updated 12 Oct 2023 10:20am

Gossip about the hacked Sony emails isn’t news, or newsworthy, or remotely justifiable

These are not politicians, or powerful corporations meddling with our data, they are Hollywood executives bickering like anyone else. The free speech argument just doesn’t add up.

By Ryan Gilbey

Some newspapers and media outlets have taken the decision not to report on or respond to the various revelations that have emerged from the hacking of Sony’s computer system and the exposure of private correspondence. To do so, they reason correctly, would be to handle stolen goods and to profit from terrorism. That charge looks incontrovertible now that Sony has pulled from its proposed 25 December release date the movie which antagonised its tormentors—The Interview, a comedy in which James Franco and Seth Rogen attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-un—in the light of threats invoking the events of 9/11. It is no surprise that exhibitors opted not to screen the film: they had no other choice. And so Sony is left with a picture that nobody is willing to risk showing. There is free speech and there is a duty of care to the public and in this instance it becomes untenable to prioritise the former.

Those who capitalise on the private information which has emerged from the Sony emails have no defence themselves of free speech since none of the carrion on which they feast was ever intended for public consumption. It doesn’t matter who disparaged whom, or which stars or directors were vilified or found wanting, or whether anyone was so incensed that they WROTE AN ENTIRE EMAIL IN BLOCK CAPS. What it comes down to is that anyone who disseminates the information found in those emails is doing their bit to chip away at free speech. Aaron Sorkin said it eloquently in this piece for the New York Times.

“If you close your eyes you can imagine the hackers sitting in a room, combing through the documents to find the ones that will draw the most blood. And in a room next door are American journalists doing the same thing. As demented and criminal as it is, at least the hackers are doing it for a cause. The press is doing it for a nickel.”

As Sorkin himself says, he has a dog in this fight: a screenplay he wrote about Steve Jobs is one of the subjects under discussion in the first tranche of emails, and there have been various leaks pertaining to his private life and his opinions further down the line. Remove him from the equation and the argument still stands though. These are not politicians displaying privately a hypocrisy that precludes them from governing. These are Hollywood executives bickering over stars and deals in the same way that anyone fires off bitchy missives about those they consider to be more powerful or entitled than themselves. It isn’t news or newsworthy or remotely justifiable. And the argument that these stories are being published anyway hardly dignifies matters: by that logic, no one could be convicted of adding a twelfth stab wound to a victim who has already suffered eleven.

It’s somehow all the more poignant that this catastrophe has been caused by a reportedly coarse comedy (though I have yet to see it, let’s take it as read that the creative team behind Pineapple Express and Your Highness have not come up with a film of Wildean wit). A nation should be judged not on how it treats its most prestigious, Oscarworthy films, but its gnarliest, lowest-common-denominator ones, as someone almost once said.

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