Injunctions ‘infringe press freedom’

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
May 04, 2011, 12:29 AM GMT+0

The British public is condemnatory about the use of injunctions by public figures to prevent the publication of stories about their private lives, our poll has found.

  • 59% think that injunctions, which prevent the media publishing stories about public figures’ private lives, are an unacceptable limit on the freedom of the press
  • 27% think that such injunctions are acceptable
  • Just 16% think that the press is ‘reporting intrusive stories that should be stopped’, compared to the 59% who believe that injunctions are infringing the media’s freedom
  • 14% think the balance between press intrusion and individual privacy is about right

Legislating privacy

Injunctions are currently handed down by judges, in a court of law; a process which Prime Minister David Cameron has said makes him ‘uneasy’ because he feels that it gives judges, instead of the Government, the power to create a right to privacy.

  • The British public, however, is split over the issue, with 39% saying that judges should set the balance between the freedom of the press and individual privacy
  • Compared to a similar 37% who say that this should be a job for Parliament

Andrew Marr: ‘hypocritical’

Two recent high-profile cases of public figures using injunctions to block stories about their personal lives have attracted similar scorn from the British public: that of BBC journalist Andrew Marr, and former Bank of Scotland head Fred Goodwin, the latter of which is under pressure to drop his case.

  • 75% think that Marr’s use of an injunction to prevent papers publishing details of his affair with a female journalist was hypocritical when he is a journalist and interviewer himself
  • 13% say it wasn’t hypocritical
  • 60% think that Goodwin should drop his use of an injunction, as his role as a public figure means that the media should be able to report stories about his life
  • 24% say that Goodwin has a right to a private life and shouldn’t drop the injunction

Injunctions are effectively ‘gagging orders’, in response to an individual’s complaint that their privacy has been, or is about to be, breached. With respect to figures in the public eye, injunctions usually refer to a certain story about their private life, often due for imminent publication, and can stop newspapers publishing any information about the story or individual in question. A ‘super-injunction’ can stop the press even mentioning that any injunction exists.

In Marr’s case, he has admitted that he sought to hide details of his affair ‒ a confession that has led to several commentators’ speculating that both his use of an injunction, and subsequent revelation of its existence, has damaged his credibility as a journalist, broadcaster and political interviewer.

See the survey details and full results here