Celebrities thrive on the oxygen of publicity. As Wilde put it, “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”. Between the tabloids and the celebrities, goes on a complex galliard of hunt and court.
The Guardian earlier this month revealed the lengths that the News of the World was prepared to go to track celebrities and then settle cases where its activities might have surfaced – the documentary evidence is fascinating (though the file is a hog). The paper had allegedly intercepted calls involving former deputy prime minister John Prescott, former culture secretary Tessa Jowell, celebrity cook Nigella Lawson, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, London Mayor Boris Johnson, comedian Lenny Henry, singer George Michael and the late Jade Goody. The fullest response from News Corp has been in The Times.
I’ve referred in earlier Slaw posts on Catherine Zeta-Jones and the adulterous soccer player to the extraordinary growth of English judge-made law protecting the privacy of film and media celebrities. A newsletter article for the ABA brings the cases up to date. In an extraordinary direct attack by Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail the editor attacked the courts for their impact on the press’ ability to expose hypocrisy and on freedom of speech. Four silks came to the defence of the leading privacy judge the next day. The trend has not made it to Canada. And the First Amendment has teeth in protecting the media in the States and on Facebook.
The paparazzi privacy cases are well summarized by the BBC in a profile of High Court Judge David Eady, the judge who has put more of a personal stamp on an area of the law than anyone since Lord Denning’s early decisions. Of course he’s not the only judge who has written on privacy, and there are three important decisions from the House of Lords (Mrs. Wainwright, Naomi Campbell, the Loreena McKennitt decision from the Court of Appeal and Princess Caroline’s case before the ECHR.
Since then Hugh Grant, Liz Hurley and her husband, won major damages, Sienna Miller, Jonathan Ross, J.K. Rowling, Simon Cowell, Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse have all toddled off to see their solicitors and drop a few statements of claims.
All the action in media litigation appears to be happening in London. Bindmans yesterday launched an action on behalf of two journalists against the Metropolitan Police for obstructing reporting.
Back in Canada, tort actions for invasion of privacy may survive motions to strike but die at trial. And the stars can attend TIFF in six weeks without fear of media harassment.