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.