Media & PR

I appear to be in a minority in frowning on blackmail

I’m uninterested in the sex lives of footballers. But I don’t like blackmailers. And I don’t think the law should favour them.

Imagine this situation. Someone threatens to publish information about someone’s private life unless they receive a large pay-off to stay silent. I don’t think the law should say – “go ahead, publish away; you might be convicted of blackmail in the future but there’s no reason why anyone should be able to stop you publishing now if your would-be victim doesn’t pay up”.

I think the law should be able to say, “stop; don’t publish until we’ve sorted out those blackmail allegations”.

That’s why not only can’t I work up any outrage over a footballer taking an injunction out over their private life, I think it’s positively wrong to say they shouldn’t be able to do so.

I don’t know if there actually is blackmail involved in the case that’s all in the news at the moment. I know it’s been alleged and I know the courts have not dismissed the allegations out of hand. Perhaps the claims are true, perhaps not. I don’t know. But then you don’t either (unless, by some improbable twist, you are one of the tiny number of people with direct first-hand knowledge of the exchanges in question).

And until we do know, why cheer on the possibility that you’re saying to a blackmailer: publish away? We do know there’s enough substance to the allegation for the courts to be thinking seriously about it – so far better to let the legal system do its stuff and decide if the person is or isn’t a blackmailer first.

Imagine if the roles were a little different, and a rich powerful person was threatening to reveal something about someone on benefits unless that person coughed up an impossibly large sum of money. Would the idea of an injunction until the accusations of blackmail had been looked into really be wrong?

Sure, there are some things wrong with the injunctions system, especially the costs and the difficulties anyone faces in challenging them on the basis of a genuine wider public interest. That’s why I’m glad the Trafigura case turned out the way it did and why I think (Lord) Ben Stoneham did the right thing spilling the beans on Fred Goodwin in Parliament.

But I can’t help but notice that far more people have been tweeting about the footballer than the banker. The banker story was out there to be spread in just the same way, but it wasn’t. The media too made the same decision, with all those not-quite-so-hidden clues as to the identity of the footballer yet doing nothing on a similar scale for the banker.

The collective choice was: case with a public interest angle? Not really interested. Case featuring a footballer and sex? Yes, yes, yes!

Well, if you think there’s a shortage of celebrity sex stories in the media, or if you think blackmailers get an unfairly harsh time of it, fair enough. That’s a choice that does makes sense.

But count me out.

UPDATE: The allegations of blackmail were in the end firmly dismissed in December 2011 when as the Press Gazette reports, “Soccer star Ryan Giggs accepted today that there was no basis to accuse reality star Imogen Thomas of blackmail.”

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