“Injunction-busting” Twitter accounts stepped into the spotlight over the weekend, and have successfully whipped up the building storm on social networks and internet forums – with a helping hand from the media.
Judges and lawyers across the country must be scratching their heads this morning, perhaps wondering how information can be restricted once it gets onto the internet, to be replicated over and over again, usually by members of the public who feel little of the legal threat hanging over newsrooms. The flow of free speech that the internet allows is breaking down previously unwavering barriers of control. What good are one nation’s laws when information flows across a global jurisdiction? It becomes impossible to take action against hundreds of Twitter users simply for retweeting an allegation that is a contempt of Court in England.
Recently names have been flying around social networks with users speculating about who has an injunction. Wikipedia was forced to take action when information relating to superinjuctions was posted on individual celebrity pages.
Both Gabby Logan and Jemima Khan have furiously denied allegations that they have taken out injunctions. A popular anti-injunction sentiment says that if secrecy continues, more innocent parties could fall victim to erroneous name-and-shame campaigns, while those hiding behind genuine injunctions remain unscathed.
Opinion seems largely split between those who see injunctions as necessary to protect the private lives of celebrities and public figures from the prying eyes of the tabloid press, and those who see any prior restraint on media stories as dangerous – whether it concerns the sex life of a footballer or the secret dealings of a multinational company. It’s safe to assume that the right to privacy created by the Human Rights Act wasn’t designed to protect the sexual indiscretions of the rich and famous, although that seems to be its primary role in the UK court system.
Celebrity sex lives may be none of our business and potentially cloud a ‘public interest’ defence for breaking injunctions, but they are a national fascination. The air of mystery surrounding potential splash stories has the public gagging for more details, whether people are happy to admit personal interest or not.
Journalists at the national newspapers are rubbing their hands with glee, and the Daily Mail and Telegraph in particular have sailed close to the wind with innuendo-laden comment pieces. The Daily Mail went so far as to put the injunction fiasco on their front page this morning.
While the media may be bound by the shackles of legal restraint, the internet remains beyond the control of English judges. The great debate is whether or not that is such a bad thing. As the uprisings in the Middle East show, free flows of information beyond the control of established authority can lead to surprising results.