On the other side of the pond, the principles of the First Amendment often take second place to the right to privacy. Britain, for example, has a smashing little thing called a “superinjunction,” which citizens can get from a court to keep the media from writing stories about them. They also have regular injunctions, which people — usually rich people, since injunctive relief can be expensive — can get to keep their names out of scandalous scoops. This results in lots of tabloid stories that read like Gawker’s blind items, or simply don’t run at all.
A married soccer player (for Manchester United, in case you care — though you probably don’t) got himself one of the latter, when the Big Brother star/model he was balling told him she was selling her story to the press. Unfortunately for him, a Twitter user crusading against muzzling the press with superinjunctions somehow got his tweepy hands on the information and published the rumor about the player’s adulterous scoring, along with a bunch of other supposedly superinjuncted gossip.
It caused an uproar in Britain initially, but the fire died down fairly quickly — until the soccer player’s lawyers decided to give it some more fuel….
The player’s lawyers announced that they were filing a lawsuit to find out who was behind the gossipy InjunctionSuper Twitter account. Soon the soccer player’s name — Ryan Giggs — was all over Twitter, though the British media still couldn’t name him, leading to ridiculous stunts like the Scotland Herald’s — putting Giggs’s face on its cover with a thin black line over his eyes to “keep him anonymous.” So now media around the world — who usually wouldn’t touch a story about what a soccer does with his balls when not on the field — are covering this. Is it fair to say that the Giggs Effect is the new Britishism for the Streisand Effect?
After “the footballer” filed the legal action against Twitter, mention of his name on the site spiked. He was named by over 75,000 Twitter users in the span of a few hours. It didn’t help matters when global media, who were not restricted by the injunction, started naming him, as I did at Forbes, and as our friends at Deadspin less delicately did.
Meanwhile, the British press, which was still muzzled, just kept accompanying their story about “a footballer” suing Twitter with photos of his rumored plaything, Imogen Thomas (right), who didn’t have an injunction against the use of her name.
The anonymity game is over this week, though, thanks to a politician who grew fed up with the ridiculous situation the UK media were in, not being able to include a name that their readers already knew. A member of Parliament took advantage of his parliamentary privilege to blurt out Ryan Giggs’s name and break the injunction.
Some critics are upset that MP David Hemming decided to circumvent the British court system. Just an hour before he slipped Giggs’ name into the public record, a court had refused a newspaper’s request to overturn the injunction. “If MPs disagree with the law they should change it, not break it,” wrote Benedict Brogan in the Daily Telegraph. “Mr Hemming is covered by unqualified parliamentary privilege, but he used it to break the law quite deliberately.”
Is it okay to break stupid laws? Injunctions seem doomed in the Internet age when breaking news is not limited to professionals. Ryan Giggs gets to be the face of the debate to come over whether Britain should keep injunctions around, and from this point forward, there will be no little black bar over his eyes.
Ryan Giggs is now David Cameron’s problem [Daily Telegraph]