Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Last train to Superin Junction

I've been thinking a lot about this superinjunction business, and I'm unsure where I stand. I disapprove of the idea of individuals shirking their personal responsibility for their own stupid mistakes. In the same position, I would not have that luxury, nor would I want it. I make no moral judgment about what the injunctors have or haven't done. Individuals are free to do what the hell they like, as long as they can face up to the consequences. This is one of the reasons that I, as a young left-winger, came to respect Alan Clark. He was a terrible shit, but he made no bones about it. He was also lucky to be blessed with an apparently endlessly tolerant wife.

At the same time, I disapprove of the tabloids dressing it up as a freedom of speech issue. It isn't. It's a freedom to print prurient shit. Different thing entirely. At the heart of this whole brouhaha is the definition of 'public interest'. It is not 'any old thing that the public might find interesting'. I've been trying to work out what I regard to be a proper definition of the term, and, after several pints and a very decent dinner with a good friend, I think I've worked it out. If revealing a piece of information improves someone's life, then it's in the public interest.

By 'improving someone's life', I am not talking about improving the bank balance of an individual hoping to flog the sorry story of their sex life with someone moderately famous. Equally, I am not talking about improving the esteem in which the editor of a shit-sheet is held by his or her bosses following the increase in circulation. Nor am I talking about the minuscule improvement to the life of the fishwife or fish-husband reading the story of an individual's indiscretions and folding their arms in disapproval. I am referring to issues of corruption and wrongdoing, some of which are life and death matters. On the continuum of issues that affect us all deeply, a footballer or an actor who can't keep his cock in his shorts is a pretty minor business.

Not that I'm excusing the vain fools who have taken out superinjunctions, but I suspect strongly that Ryan, G----h*, H--h**, et al, have been guilty in the main of accepting duff, mendacious advice from lawyers who stand only to gain, whether the court order succeeds or fails. Moreover, I suspect that they have accepted this duff advice with relief in full expectation of what the same papers that now bemoan superinjunctions would do to them (Note the conflict of interest, right there). The saddest part of all is that by taking out their injunctions, they've created weeks and weeks worth of fish and chip paper, rather than letting the hacks have their fun and hoping the whole thing will be forgotten in days, which it almost certainly would have been.

So now we know the identity of CTB. Or rather we can talk openly about the identity of CTB, which anyone with a Twitter account's known for weeks. This is all thanks to the Sunday Herald pushing its luck and LibDem MP John Hemming using Parliamentary privilege (that is to say, immunity from prosecution for issues raised in the House, no matter how actionable). I say 'thanks', but the fact is that Hemming is not a brave freedom fighter. He's an attention-seeking twonk and, at this precise moment in time, he is Mr Murdoch & Mr Dacre's most useful idiot. Worst of all, I fear that his naming and shaming might have long-term effects on Parliamentary privilege. The key word there is 'privilege'. It is not a right. Privileges can be taken away. The concept of Parliamentary privilege dates back to before regular broadcasts of Commons and Lords sessions. That it continues to exist is a valuable weapon and a much-needed ultimate sanction, but if grandstanders and showboaters take the piss, it could well be curtailed. When Paul Farrelly used Parliamentary privilege to out Trafigura on the issue of toxic waste dumping off the Ivory Coast, that was a revelation in your actual public interest. Toxic waste dumping is a far more important issue than a randy celebrity.

As for Twitter, it has shown its ability to stand up for itself en masse and defy authority on issues that groups of its users believe to be important. That could be a great thing. Twitter just needs to make sure that it's ready do it on an issue that really really matters.