Saturday, 30 January 2010

John Terry and "Press Freedom"

It's not often I talk about the love lives of the rich and famous, still less footballers. But the case of Chelsea and England footy captain John Terry sits uneasily with me.

For those of you who don't bother with the mainstream press, most tabloids today have led with the story that Terry (a married father of two) has been having an affair with his best mate's then-girlfriend.
The Sun takes great delight in revealing the devastation Terry's infidelity has wrought on his nearest and dearest, exposing the hypocrisy of 2009's 'Dad of the Year' and decorates the piece with a lingerie photo of Vanessa Perroncel, Terry's lover. And just to put the boot in there's a list of his past indiscretions too.

When rumours about Terry's affair began to circulate his legal team reached for a super injunction. Made infamous by the
Trafigura case in autumn last year, super-injunctions prevent not only press reportage on a particular topic but cannot even acknowledge the existence of a gagging order. Furthermore, The Sun claims Terry had Perroncel sign a confidentiality agreement. The whole super-injunction collapsed after a High Court judge refused to renew it. According to Murdoch stable-mate, The Times, the judge was of the view that public figures should be open to media scrutiny and criticism, and that Terry's legal actions were more a desire to protect his professional interests rather than make good the damage inflicted on his relationship. Both The Sun and Times go on to speculate about the impact on his sporting career. Could Terry be the British Tiger Woods?

On the one hand it's good to see another super-injunction bite the dust. Leaving aside the raft of authoritarian legislation introduced by the government, it's difficult to name a development in (case) law that is so obviously incompatible with democratic politics. But this is not a triumph for 'freedom of speech' or anything of the sort.

As far as the tabloid press are concerned, Terry's super-injunction got in the way of their reporting of tittle-tattle. Even among those who get their jollies from voyeuristically peering into the scandalous goings-ons of celebrity sex lives, does anyone really give a shit? While it's a very sad episode for the family, does it mean Terry is incapable of acquitting his footballing duties ?

This is what makes me sick about
The Sun and its ilk. They continually trumpet the freedom of the press as if they are holding the rich and the powerful to account. But they don't. Free speech for them is the right to smear those who displease and challenge its masters, and/or pick over the bones of dysfunctional celebrities. If tabloids were prevented from digging up celebrity dirt they would have very little to write about. News offices might have to spend money on sending more journalists out into the field instead of ripping off blogs or embellishing on other internet material. They might even have to do in-depth investigative journalism or, heaven forfend, report real news. For the tabloids, it's not a commitment to journalistic ethics that have them kicking against super-injunctions. It's their overriding concern with their bottom line.


Anonymous said...

I've been tinkering around with something on defamation, partly due to this libel reform campaign and party due to the new Irish blasphemy law. If you're on the left, I think there's an instinctive preference for free speech - and of course journalists will always argue for fewer legal restrictions - but I can't help thinking there's a disingenuous element to the libel reform argument. I'm not convinced that there are hundreds of Trafigura cases journalists are frustrated at not being allowed to report - I think it's more likely that the balance will be towards more tales of footballers shagging. That's what sells papers, after all.

There's some really good material on this at Lucifee's blog, if anyone wants to go further into the legal issues.

Jenna Culbertson said...

While I am very against censorship, I am also against tabloids that leave a trail of slime. It is their brand of so-called reporting that gives honest journalists a bad rep.

Phil said...

I hear that now John Terry arranged a "secret" abortion for Vanessa Perroncel. I found this out thanks to an Iain Dale tweet. But why? How is it our business? Is Iain thinking of parking his tanks on the gutter presses' lawns?

EFComrade said...

It isn't as if there was any real news to report today, it's not like Blair was in front of the Iraq war enquiry today.

But ofcourse the sun would rather avoid that serious topic of news and report on someones personal life from that such high moral standpoint.

Phil you raise an interesting point, why should we care about hispersonal life, but if the media had not created the need to know these things, they might be forced to fill the empty spaces with real news stories that might just make people think

Anonymous said...

So like The Sun ,reporter something most working ppl will have a joke about but as it been said it will take billy lie of the front page .So on to the world cup and there will big headlines if england do not do well with The sun leading the way .Why ppl buy this shit is just beyone me

Phil said...

Anonymous, up until I left home at 18 I used to read The Sun every day. It and the local rag were bought religiously by my mum. I used to ask her why she wasted her money on this crap, and she said it was only for the bingo.

Glyn, another thing that makes me sick is how the tabloid press even dare take the moral high ground. Boozing, family breakdown and philandering are all characteristics of the profession.

Simon said...

The press inherited the ideological functions of the clergy; they clearly inherited their moral hypocrisy as well.

skidmarx said...

Was she not Wayne Bridge's "then girlfriend" rather than his "ex-girlfriend", as the offence would not seem as great in the latter case?

Celebrities are provided with a carrot and a stick by the media as part of the process that maintains them as some of the organic intellectuals of the ruling class [if you think this is over-stating the case, look up the figures on the percentage of Americans who say they get all their news from celebrities]. Play the game , present yourself as a family man who doesn't do drugs and does lots of work for charity, and you're a good role model for kids and get plenty of financial endorsement, stray from the path and you are a fair target.
It seems understandable both that Terry should want to use his wealth to hide his indiscretions, and the Sun would wish to expose them. The answer wouldn't seem to be to expect these leopards to change their spots, but to work towards a society in which acting within the norms is not considered sainthood and acting outside them is not demonised.

Phil said...

Good point, Skidders. I'll amend the post.

I'm also fully on board describing most celebrities as organic intellectuals of the ruling class. Though I'm sure if Gramsci was around and formulating his ideas today, he'd want to avoid applying the label 'intellectual' anywhere near the likes of Wayne Rooney, Katie Price, etc.

Adam said...


john terry looses captains armband!!

he's asked wayne bridge to check under his bed