The individual’s right to privacy, the public’s “right to know” and freedom of the press.
Now there’s a difficult balance to strike.
And then there are super-injunctions.
One of the reasons for granting one of the notorious secret super-injunctions was apparently that, if the man’s marital infidelity were revealed, his children might get bullied at school. I rather think that, if the guy’s kids get bullied because their father has been sticking his knob within someone other than his wife, then the guy should take responsibility. It ain’t for the public courts to help him try to hide his adultery.
But the protection of children versus freedom of the press can be a well-balanced problem – of which more later, with Tony Blair.
Yesterday, the Guido Fawkes blog ran a story that, since 2008 – unknown to the British public – it has been an offence punishable by imprisonment to reveal that Lakshmi Mittal, the richest man in Britain – who has donated £2 million to the Labour Party – has a super-injunction gagging all reporting of an unknown and unprintable matter.
And much was made in the press yesterday about the super-injunction with which former RBS boss Fred Goodwin tried to hide an affair he had with a married subordinate before the financial crisis of 2008. This was the super-injunction which also, technically, made it illegal to describe him as “a banker”.
There have been lots of worthy ‘public interest’ words about how the public deserved to know about Fred Goodwin’s affair because it may have affected his judgment in the period leading up to the point at which the British taxpayer had to fork out billions of pounds to save RBS.
I’m not convinced that Fred The Bed’s rumpy pumpy is too likely to have specifically contributed to RBS’s woes in any major way. I think that may be more to do with the near-meltdown of the entire world’s financial system – and, from my biased perspective, two Icelandic banks which stole the money I had invested in them. But stress, obviously, does affect people’s judgment in times of crisis.
If – let us say for argument’s sake – if… a Prime Minister were making important life-or-death decisions in a highly volatile post-war situation, the public would have a right to know if he were making those decisions under extreme personal stress, wouldn’t they?
Well, no, apparently the public would not have any right to know that.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think highly personal matters SHOULD be in the public domain if people – perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands of people – might die because of a potentially wrong decision taken by a politician under extreme personal pressure.
Tony Blair – sometimes called Tony Bliar, a far more fitting spelling – the man who brought in the Freedom of Information Act – claimed he wanted ‘open’ government.
Yet, when his 16 year old daughter Kathryn attempted suicide on or around 13th May 2004, he and his chaps went to the editors of the main British newspapers and had all reporting of the attempted suicide barred from publication because it was a solely personal, private matter. Rupert Murdoch barred publication of any reporting of the incident in any of his newspapers worldwide; I do wonder what sort of political payback he could expect for doing that.
It remains one of many stories known by but not reported in the UK media. Many people who knew about the attempted suicide at the time agreed and still agree with the blanket non-reporting of the fact it happened. They believe that it was and is a family tragedy and there is no “in the public interest” factor involved; they argued and argue that the physical and psychological protection of the individual child outweighs any public right to know. I disagree.
In a recent blog I mentioned I tried to commit suicide when I was 18.
The Blair daughter suicide bid happened almost exactly one year after the invasion of Iraq, which was in an even worse mess and the Abu Ghraib torture pictures had recently been publicised. The suicide bid was rumoured to have been caused by a combination of exam stress and bullying by schoolmates about her father’s involvement in Iraq. Which is where that earlier reference to school bullying comes in.
The Blair suicide story is not an urban myth. I know someone who, at the time, was connected to the Blair daughter’s Roman Catholic state secondary school, the Sacred Heart in Hammersmith. I heard about it at the time because, obviously, the school knew it had happened.
I first heard the story mentioned in public by an Irish comedian at the August 2004 Edinburgh Fringe. The story had been published in Ireland and abroad but not in the UK and not by any news sources controlled by Rupert Murdoch.
At the time, there were unexplained stories in the British press that Blair was considering leaving office. No reason was given in the reports as to why Blair might leave office beyond, occasionally, some vague reference to “family”. And it seemed to me that Blair suddenly visibly aged at that time.
If those stories were true and he was indeed considering actually resigning for family reasons then it does not seem to be a vast leap of supposition to believe that he was making important decisions of life and death in an extremely volatile and unpredictable high-pressure post-Invasion situation while under extreme psychological stress.
The reasons for his stress might well have been “personal” and “private” but, when personal, normally private events affect national and international decisions and potentially the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people, the public has a right to know the circumstances under which those decisions are being made.
There ARE cases where the public’s “right to know” and freedom of the press over-ride people’s “right to privacy”.