New Times,
New Thinking.

9 May 2011updated 17 Jan 2012 6:01am

In defence of privacy

Most superinjunctions suppress money-making stories about celebrity sex, rather than a real public i

By Steven Baxter

Someone once had sex with someone else. Can you imagine? An adult . . . having sex with another adult. It’s a startling revelation, and we need to know. We have a right to know. We must know, because two people once rubbed smelly bits for an hour or two, and that’s the most important story in the world. We must know – we have a right to know – because these people have decided they have a sinister right to privacy about what goes on behind closed doors; that they are in some way allowed to have a life that we can’t inspect and turn upside down for the benefit of brightly coloured headlines in dentists’ waiting rooms. We must stop this so-called “privacy” right now.

You may not be surprised by the idea that two adults had sex with each other. You may not be stunned to find it out. You may not care, as long as they were consenting adults. But the whole superinjunction debate, still plodding along through our printed press, assumes that you really are surprised, you really are stunned by these “revelations”, you really do care. More than that, though: it assumes that it’s in our interest – to our benefit – to know these things.

Imagine you watched a teatime drama series on television, but one of the actors playing a character in it had once had sex with someone else, to whom they weren’t married. Don’t you have a right to know these things? How on earth can you judge these people, unless you know every single heave and squirt of their personal lives, every cough and spit, every fart and belch? How can you judge them otherwise – on the content of their professional work? Please. We need to know more. We have a right to know more.

The same old excuses keep dribbling back. We need to know because these professional people base their reputations on a family-friendly image. We have to know about these matters because they exist in the public eye, and make their fortunes from it.

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Sporting people, for example, make millions out of endorsements, some of which we can tenuously pretend came about because of their “family man” image rather than because of their sporting prowess – so we have a right to know, to stop them from pulling the wool over our innocent eyes, to enable us to make informed choices about which brand of whatever it is we like to buy . . . or else we’d be unfairly swayed by the celebrity endorsement of someone who has actually had sex with someone else, and doesn’t want us to know about it. Imagine that!

By now, of course, we’ve heard of most of the names involved – the correct ones and the incorrect ones. If you venture into the Wild West of Twitter, it only takes a couple of searches to work out who has allegedly done what with whom and when, though there’s no guarantee that it’s true. Perhaps this is another argument in favour of scrapping superinjunctions. The tedious guessing game that gets wheeled out whenever there is news of another case means that, inevitably, people who haven’t done anything at all, let alone the sexual acts that so cause the tabloids to clutch at their collective pearls, will get smeared. If only we could know the truth, this wouldn’t happen!

If only there were another Trafigura, another case where a real public interest was being suppressed rather than the money-making desire to splash a few stories about celebrity sex. But it hasn’t happened, and there isn’t a noble cause here to be fought in the name of freedom of speech and justice. It’s just a few celebrities who’ve had sex with other people, occasionally other celebrities, and that’s all there is.

If it could be shown that the superinjunctions were geniunely clamping down on the freedom of the press to report real news, that would be a different matter. But despite all the huffing and puffing from the tabloids – and their bigger brothers and sisters – there’s been no such thing. It boils down to whether you think it’s important to know about one person’s private sexual life, at the expense of the privacy of their family (especially important when children are involved) and that’s all it is. If you think that’s important, and we have a right to know, that’s fine. I don’t think I do.

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