As the writer of a radio gag about superinjunctions back in 2010, you’re probably thinking I’ve got an opinion on this currently rather hot topic. And you’d be right.
For those of you who are a bit unclear on how they work, a superinjunction is an injunction which stops someone saying something, or even reporting that they’ve been ordered not to say it. And regardless of what you think about the issues of privacy or press freedom or Judges making law or the Human Rights Act or whatever, lurking behind most of these cases seems to be one common factor: someone did something they’d rather you didn’t know about.
Most of the instances which the press have become very excited about have involved men putting their winkle somewhere they shouldn’t have, though in the Trafigura case it was more a question of alleged business naughtiness; but it’s still a case of people doing stuff which they know would reflect badly on them in PR terms. Whether it’s sleeping with someone you’re not married to, or paying someone to place items up your bot, these are things which are likely to make people tut and buy papers and think less of you. Which is why people who have a public image to protect, and sufficient money to afford it, seek a superinjunction.
And it’s from this that the more tangled debates stem, and I think this pretty simple thing is easily overlooked in the more messy and interesting-seeming debates which are currently taking place – which is a pity, because all of us have to take responsibility for our actions, and if we do something we’re not proud of, it’s not the place of the law to hide that. If you’re in the public eye, the media will be very interested in everything you do – this is not new, we’ve seen it since the times of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis, and if you have a propensity for behaviour (sexual or otherwise) which might not do your career any good, you probably have a choice to make about which to pursue.
But if you’re going to do something which you’d rather people didn’t know about, and someone does know about it, using a legal mechanism to try and pretend it never happened strikes me as both disingenuous and a little bit childish; it did happen – and it’s interesting how this is rarely at issue in these cases, it’s more a question of damage limitation – and if you thought it was a good idea at the time, maybe you should be adult enough to admit it, rather than trying to gag people who know about your indiscretion? It sounds like the worst kind of denial, like the Dead Parrot sketch or something, shutting your ears to the reality of the situation and hoping that the world will reshape itself to match your delusion.
And this bugs me because I like to remember things which often seem to get removed from the history books: like when the Chinese authorities opened fire on hundreds of students in Tianenmen Square, or Cheryl Tweedy (as was) assaulted a woman in a nightclub toilet, or the way the newspapers criticised Diana, Princess of Wales in the months before her death. All these things often seem to be forgotten or overlooked, but they happened, and it feels like 1984-style Doublethink to act as if one thing’s the case (it didn’t happen) when you know the opposite is true (well, yeah, it did happen).
In psychological terms, holding two opinions that clash that way is seen as a likely cause of ‘cognitive dissonance’, that awkward feeling we have when two ideas in our head don’t quite sit together; most galling when we realise that our opinion on something doesn’t actually square with the facts, but, well, doing stuff and knowing at the time it’s not so bright, or realising that after the event, is part of being a grown-up and taking responsibility for your actions.
A prospect which some people in the public eye appear to have a bit of trouble accepting, so I can only hope that the adulation and money helps take the edge off. The poor dears.