Galaxy time far far away – 1534 to be precise – a pretty messy year for advocates of free speech and those who disagreed with the Crown took place. First, the Act of Supremacy was passed, which insisted that Henry VIII was the ONLY head of the Church in England, and if you disagreed, you would be subject to the next law that passed… the Treason Act of 1534. The Treason Act stated that a person was guilty of treason if he or she were to:
do maliciously wish, will or desire by words or writing, or by craft imagine, invent, practise, or attempt any bodily harm to be done or committed to the king’s most royal person, the queen’s or the heirs apparent [Elizabeth], or to deprive them of any of their dignity, title or name of their royal estates, or slanderously and maliciously publish and pronounce, by express writing or words, that the king should be heretic, schismatic, tyrant, infidel or usurper of the crown…
In other words, if you spoke ill of the Crown, you were guilty of treason. It was designed to quell any sort of rebellious talk. The time period was a period of great change; the Catholic Church had ruled for centuries, was the pillar of every community in the Country, and now in a very short amount of time the Church was being destroyed. It was a massive reformation that would have profound affects on the lives of all citizens. Thomas More famously executed under the Act.
Today, it would be politically ridiculous for a government to demand complete obedience in an age of democracy, but just as modern day celebrity gossip evolved from Court gossip of the old Monarchy regimes, we have a new breed of anti-free speech legislation designed to protect the people who rely on them.
Celebrities seem to be taking out “super injunctions” all over the place. The power of the rich and the famous to be able to censor the reporting of their slightly dubious antics has become more common recently. A Super injunction is an odd product (and it is a product). An injunction bans the reporting of a certain story. A super injunction bans the reporting that an injunction has been taken out. However, under a super injunction, an MP is allowed to raise the injunction in Parliament under Parliamentary privilege, and Parliamentary statements can then be reported by the press. Though it is against the law to report anything more than what was said in Parliament. The ridiculous nature of this little arrangement came to a head when Lib Dem MP John Hemming stood up in Parliament earlier this year and said:
“In a secret hearing this week Fred Goodwin has obtained a super-injunction preventing him being identified as a banker. Will the government have a debate or a statement on freedom of speech and whether there’s one rule for the rich like Fred Goodwin and one rule for the poor?”
– He is correct on both assertions. Goodwin has indeed taken out a super injunction preventing anyone from referring to him as a banker. Breaking this law, means the CRIMINAL could face a massive fine, or a jail sentence. Yes, a jail sentence. Criminal damage = a telling off. Calling Fred Goodwin a banker = Jail. That’s how the law works. Interestingly, if you change one letter in banker, you get a far more accurate representation of what Sir Fred Goodwin actually is…… and joyfully, we can say it. The wanker.
Oil trader Trafigura, in 2009 managed to get a super injunction last year against the Guardian, preventing them from revealing the leaked details of the Minton report (which you can find here) that showed that Trafigura knew damn well that chemical waste they had dumped in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, would have deep health issues. The chemical dump is actually caused the deaths of fifteen people and the illnesses of over 100,000 more. The fifteen had died from ” fatal levels of the poisonous gas hydrogen sulphide”. The press officer for Trafigura tried to edit the Wikipedia page for the ship that delivered the poisonous materials, to remove any mention of Trafigura. In October 2009, The Guardian were handed a copy of the Minton Report, which conclusively showed an admission from Trafigura, that they were responsible for the chemical dump, and knew the implications. Trafigura sought an injunction to ban the Guardian from releasing the report, they got it. The Guardian were ready to take Trafigura’s legal team to court over the injunction, but the legal team backed down and the injunction was lifted. Here is the injunction document in question.
A hyper injunction goes one step further. It bans anyone from talking to their MP, or journalist, or absolutely anybody really. Journalists who are investigating an incident, could be jailed for talking to victims of the incident, under a hyper injunction. In 2006 a person had been banned, by hyper injunction, from claiming to anyone, including an MP, that paint used on a passenger ship could be poisoning the water. The person was banned from talking to any other ship company, or coastguard, or talking about the details of the injunction to anyone, on fear of imprisonment. The individual got a two week suspended sentence for discussing the matter with a lawyer. A massive Corporation has essentially bought the law.
It is of course mightily ludicrous of papers like The Mail to claim the moral high ground against adulterous celebrities. The moment someone wishes to sell a sordid sex secret, the Mail will jump on it. Sexual morality and the press are not very compatible, so to be calling these people all sorts of names for being promiscuous, is laughable at best. The antics of the celebrities is not what concerns me. A footballer having an affair is hardly something new, nor interesting. The fact that they take out court orders preventing it from being spoke of, is what interests me. Gagging the press for futile reasons, is a dangerous and worrying precedent to set.
I am pretty certain that I am not allowed to name the people who we know have super injunctions out. We know that a Premiership star had an affair with Imogen from Big Brother (I know who it is), we know a World famous British Actor paid for sex with a string of prostitutes including one who previously slagged it up with Wayne Rooney (I know who it is), we know a British actor in a British TV show has had affairs (I know who it is) and all of whom have taken out super injunctions. There is also a rumour that an ex-England star has been involved in an affair with a TV Sports Presenter, and both have super injunctions out. Now, usually this kind of pointless nonsense would just be supremely boring to me. But the fact they have gone to the length to block their names being reported, is what intrigues me, and what I suspect, intrigues millions like me. We wouldn’t care if it came out that (for arguments sake…..obviously) a famous Manchester United player who isn’t from England or Scotland has had an affair with a reality TV star. It’d die within days. It is unimportant. But the fact they have spent an obscene amount of money to keep it all covered up, is something that should be ridiculed, and they ridiculed for it, at every given opportunity. Their secrets are not putting anyone’s lives at risk, it isn’t a matter of national security, it is simply a way to stop the highest paid idiots from being embarrassed and protecting their sponsorship deals.
A lady working on a loved British TV show was sacked after having an affair with her co-star. Both were married. The absolutely shameless male was denied an injunction because the Judge ruled it had a public interest angle, given that she lost her job because of the affair. He appealed, and won. The Judge ruled that the News of the World who had the story, could not print it, and the work colleagues of the shameless male must not talk about the affair. Shameless, i’m sure you’ll agree.
It is a ridiculous manipulation of the law. Some sources claim more than 20 super injunctions have been taken out over the past year. That is ridiculous. It isn’t so much that I want to publish the names of celebrities who are shagging around. But when you discover who these self important celebrities are, you REALLY want to post their names, just for the sake of it. I don’t watch Big Brother, but if someone were to say “Watch tonight, one of the contestants has a massive break down, takes a dump on the table, and then proceeds to throw it at everyone else and the cameras”…. I would most certainly watch it. Similarly, I don’t care that celebrities (who seem to be in a galaxy far far away from our own) shag around – actually, I’m all for keeping private lives private – but when they throw their own shit at the general public by going to court to seek to stop anyone even talking about it, then I become intrigued.
Henry VIII would be proud.