Press Complaints Commission director Stephen Abell believes Max Mosley’s high-profile privacy action in the European courts was doomed to fail because it ignored the importance of social networking websites.
Writing in the New Statesman, Abell said that ‘injunctions cannot silence the internet,’adding: ‘When you try to squeeze hold of a piece of information, it will always slip between your fingers.”
Abell claimed this is the reason why Mosley’s attempts to force journalists to notify people before articles are published about them was ‘already an anachronism when the case started”.
The day on which the European Court rejected his proposal was the same day front pages were screaming about Twitter accounts ignoring injunctions.
In this world of online information, everyone is a prospective journalist. Mosley’s law would have had to be enforced on bloggers, or even people tweeting; it could never have worked in practice.
If there is to be further regulation of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, it will have to be self-imposed. They are global phenomena and cannot be controlled by Westminster and Whitehall.
Abell also claimed that ‘a new privacy law does not seem to be any answer”, and gave several examples of work the PCC does behind the scenes to protect people’s privacy.
In the case of grieving parents who do not want to speak to the press about the death of a child, for example, Abell said that even though there may be a public interest in the story ‘there is none in contacting those who do not wish to speak to the media”, and that it was the PCC’s job was to ‘ensure that the parents are protected”.
At the celebrity end, we might be informed that an actor has been, or is being, pursued persistently by paparazzi. We inform editors of the concerns: the net result is very often that pictures are not purchased, the market for the images is affected and the harassment stops.