Mosley Was Right to Sue - but Now I Fear MPs Are Closer to Backing a Privacy Law

The Evening Standard (London, England), March 11, 2009 | Go to article overview

Mosley Was Right to Sue - but Now I Fear MPs Are Closer to Backing a Privacy Law


Byline: ROY GREENSLADE MEDIA ANALYSIS

MAX MOSLEY gave an impressive performance in front of MPs yesterday.

He was master of his brief, quoting data, legal statutes and case histories without bothering to look at any notes. He was measured, reasonable and polite as members of the House of Commons Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport questioned him about his ambition to see a privacy law enacted in Britain.

Indeed, Mosley's argument was beguiling, not least because he made out such a good case against intrusion into his privacy by the News of the World. He was outraged by the publication of the story, pictures and video footage of him at what he likes to call a sado-masochistic "party" and what the paper called an "orgy". He was even more angered, given that he is the son of the wartime fascist leader Oswald Mosley, by the paper's claim that the party had involved a Nazi scenario, an allegation the News of the World was unable to substantiate when sued by Mosley.

His court victory over the paper last year, resulting in a record award of [pounds sterling]60,000 in damages, did not assuage his hurt. That is why he is pursuing libel claims against the paper in France and Italy, and why he asked to appear before the MPs (and why he is still contemplating whether to sue the News of the World all over again, this time for libel).

Mosley is on a mission and he is proving to be the most articulate and determined foe the press have ever faced. As I have written previously, I believe that he was right to sue, and I was delighted that he won. He is also convinced that he has the support of the public, and I have some evidence to support that.

One of the assignment questions I set my City University postgraduate journalism students last term was about the Mosley case. More than 100 of them chose that option and all, without exception, sided with Mosley, believing that there was no public interest in revealing his sexual frolics.

The overwhelming majority thought that his presidency of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile did not make him a public figure, and he was not therefore "a role model" in the accepted terms of that phrase. He was engaged in a private activity that should have remained private.

But my sympathy for Mosley's plight, and my appreciation of his arguments before the committee, do not blind me to the fact that a privacy law would be a gross inhibition of press freedom.

It would have, as the MP Paul Farrelly suggested to him, a chilling effect on serious investigative journalism.

Mosley swept Farrelly's objections aside. It would be fine, he said. Judges would consider whether a story was in the public interest.

They are independent and would take rational decisions. Tabloid editors, by contrast, take their decisions on whether to publish based on a desperate commercial need to maximise sales.

Note the pejorative use of "tabloid".

Farrelly, a former Reuters, Independent and Observer journalist, did his best ' We could a situation papers are fighting injunctions much hope a to draw Mosley away from red-top mischief towards examples of public-interest journalism that would suffer if people were allowed to go to court before publication. …

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