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Injunctions in sport

by Dominic Pollard

FLickr_RedHeatThere is an ongoing battle in journalism between Articles 8 and 10 of the Human Rights Act. To simplify the issue, Article 8 states: “Everyone has the right to respect his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” While Article 10 says that: “Everyone has the right of freedom of expression.” 

In short, this is the conflict of privacy rights versus a free press.It is currently a prevalent issue in the world of journalism, and prominent with regard to footballers and their use of injunctions and super injunctions to prevent certain stories from being published. The crucial factor in deciding which side will win this battle is ‘public interest’.

Privacy vs public interest

In other words,is revealing information about a footballer’s private life in the public’s interest?Footballers unquestionably live their lives in the public eye, and how they live is a source of great interest. It is important, however, to differentiate between what the public are interested in and what is in the public’s interest. The thirst of gossip column readers for inane prattle should not warrant a ‘celebrity’ – a category under which the modern footballer falls – having their private life scrutinised.

Footballers as role models
They are not role models through their own choice though, but through the sociological trend that has seen the game of football and footballers themselves become a cornerstone of modern British culture.

It is of utmost importance that freedom of expression and a free press is maintained. Yet this does not entitle the press to print what they want, about whom they want – lest we live in a world without privacy or respect for the personal and private information of others. A balance must be struck.

Revealing who Wayne Rooney slept with is not a matter of public interest. Nor is the identity of the footballer with a super injunction preventing his affair from entering the papers in the public interest. Such information does not inform or empower people in a meaningful way. It is a largely inconsequential detail that has little bearing on the life of anyone but the subject.

Exposing corruption, revealing abuse of power, or correcting misleading words and actions of someone in authority is in the public interest. Indeed that is how ‘public interest’ is defined in the Editors’ Code under the self-regulating procedures of the Press Complaints Commision.

Tarnishing the reputation of a 20-something year- old man who earns a lot of money to kick a ball around is something that will merely boost sales.

Moral oblication or economic compensation?

One could safely assume that it is such economic factors that motivate the publication of these stories, rather than any moral obligation to expose the truth and inform the public.

The opposing argument may say that footballers are role models and, therefore, their private lives should be revealed. They are not role models through their own choice though, but through the sociological trend that has seen the game of football and footballers themselves become a cornerstone of modern British culture.

The right to privacy

A free press is, of course, an essential element of a democratic society, but so too is an individual’s right to a private life. This applies to footballers as well, and signing a lucrative contract worth millions should not forfeit this right.

A gossip-hungry culture should not dictate that their personal lives can be invaded and, as such, injunctions and super injunctions remain a necessity in maintaining this important balance between privacy and public interest.


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