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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

question of the day: How much can — or should — we gag celebrity press?

There’s a stunning headline in the Telegraph this morning:

Married TV star wins ‘worldwide’ gagging order from judge

A High Court judge has issued an unprecedented gagging order in an attempt to prevent details of a television star’s private life being published, even on the internet.

It’s stunning for a lot of reasons. For starters: for the idea that a British judge can assume jurisdiction over the entire world, for the notion that the rich and famous are owed stronger privacy than the poor and anonymous, for how a law like this — assuming it were enforceable — could be a cover for all sorts of terrible misdeeds and injustices.

More from the article:

Mr Justice Eady, who has been at the centre of most recent controversial libel and privacy cases, made the injunction “against the world” rather than just against national newspapers and broadcasters.

His order seeks to prevent the publication of “intimate photographs” of a married public figure after a woman tried to sell them for a “large sum of money”.

The judge said the woman “owed” the claimant, identified only as OPQ, a “duty of confidence” and breaching his privacy would damage the health of the man and his family.

His order is intended to cover discussion of the case online as well as in traditional media, despite the difficulties in enforcing it.

The injunction contra mundum is intended to be never-ending and, as its Latin name suggests, applies to the entire world.

Perhaps the real kicker is what we learn from an earlier story about the case:

The celebrity, who can only be identified as “a male working in the entertainment industry”, had a five-month sexual relationship with the woman, who has to be known for legal reasons as “X”.

Some time after he discussed the affair with his employers and told them he felt “awkward”, she was fired. A source then leaked the story to a newspaper.

The man began the sexual relationship with X in around November 2009 and it soon became obvious to their colleagues, it is believed.

Towards the end of April the following year, his wife confronted him after rumours of his infidelity reached her and he admitted the situation, which caused her “deep distress”, but they decided to stay together “to rebuild her trust and their marriage”.

The lovers ended the affair before the man discussed the “awkward” situation with their employer and “told them that he would prefer in an ideal world not to have to see her at all”.

The woman was sacked in December last year, leaving her “understandably upset and angry” and is thought to have threatened to sue her former employer.

So the story is about more merely sordid sex gossip: it’s about abuses of power.

Does this celebrity deserve extra privacy? Isn’t it better for all of society if our ideals of free speech remain unfettered, even if that means we do sometimes pay the price of sordid gossip? Shouldn’t we err on the side of openness rather than secrecy?

How much can — or should — we gag celebrity press?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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