Why we should really care about the Giggs affair

Posted on May 26, 2011


Ryan Giggs – Manchester United player and one of the most decorated players in football history. It’s not been his footballing attributes, though, that have attracted the attention of the world recently, despite picking up the Premier League trophy for the 12th time in his career last weekend.

Picture obtained from Wikipedia Commons, author Gordon Flood

But it’s his alleged pulling off the pitch that’s sparked a global debate on social media sites and news outlets alike.

In 2010, Giggs, married with two children, is reported to have had an illicit affair with reality TV star Imogen Thomas. However, to prevent this becoming common knowledge he asked for, and was granted, what’s known as a superinjunction by the English courts.

A superinjunction is a piece of privacy law intended to protect the private lives of celebrities by banning the publication of a story. In contrast to an injunction which blocks a story being published, a super-injunction blocks even naming who the story is about. In other words, it creates a press blackout.

It’s been successfully used by celebs in the past, but the ruling was broken by members of micro blogging site, Twitter, who believe that information should always be shared.

The world has been forced to take notice because Giggs accused Twitter for not controlling the publication of material protected by law.

Why should we care?

Well, now it seems that the purpose of superinjunctions has been brought into the spotlight and an international debate is taking place. Potentially, it threatens how much information we are allowed to find out about idols such as Ryan Giggs.

One possible solution that has been discussed in the UK is to ban journalists from courtrooms where injunctions are being decided upon. Currently, journalists have special privileges allowing them to report court proceedings.

This restriction, it’s said, would stop leakages of information onto the Internet.

So, what’s the problem?

The question is: does the public need to know about the private life of celebs? UK Prime Minister David Cameron gave his backing to the press by stating that he was “uneasy” with the courts use of superinjunctions.

But it’s not a decision that can be made by the UK alone.

Privacy law is one of the most controversial areas of law in the world. For years companies and individuals from around the world have used stricter rules in the UK to claim against those in their home country. This has given rise to the term ‘libel tourism’.

The problem is that what is constituted a ruling to the media in England, does not apply to the media in the United States for instance.

The complications in this case are an example of an argument which has stretched years. Although the publication on Twitter was from a UK source, the company is based in America, meaning it is unclear whether the law applies.

Twitter’s new European boss, Tony Wang, warned today that users who break superinjunctions could face charges in UK courts.

He warned that the site would hand over user information to the authorities where they were “legally required”.

This brings into question the values of free speech many users believe in and so, the future of free flowing information on social media sites worldwide. The story’s likely to develop for some time.

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