A privacy injunction by the U.K. court of appeal earlier this year blocked British media from writing about the alleged affair of a celebrity's partner — a move one tabloid is now calling a farce of justice, since the story has been published in the U.S.
The Daily Mail published a front-page article on Thursday headlined "Why the Law Is an Ass!" The Mail called the privacy law "draconian," and accused rich and famous residents of the U.K. of hiding behind injunctions to cover up any potentially unflattering story.
Under British laws, public figures may face criticism in the media — if a public interest outweighs their privacy. If a court determines there is no public interest to a story about a celebrity's personal life, an injunction may be issued to prevent the story from being published. In some cases, under what's called a super-injunction, even the existence of a court's decision may not be reported in the media.
But with the advent of the internet, U.K. residents have access to global media outlets that are not bound by similar laws. In the U.S., for example, constitutional protections exist for a free press. U.S. media may often cite a variety of newsworthy reasons to write about a person's private life, if the story is true. When writing about public figures, the media has even more leeway; a celebrity can only prove libel if the story is false and they can show that it was written with malicious intent.
"Details of the celebrity's infidelity and the threesome have been printed in the US and are available to 319million Americans," the Mail wrote. "Information was also immediately available on social media and the names were even published in search inquiry results on the British site of Google."
According to U.K. court of appeal records, the Sun on Sunday planned to write about a person who is well-known in the entertainment business and his partner. The court's ruling took place in January, and it was reported by The Guardian after becoming public in March.
The partner had met up in 2011 with another couple for a sexual encounter, the records said. The couple then in January 2016 approached the newspaper to tell about their experience.
The newspaper's lawyers contacted the partner for comment, and he then started the court proceedings.
"They maintained that they had not courted publicity about their private life," the records said. "They said that the various press articles about them were substantially true. They had been in a relationship for many years. The relationship was an open one."
A judge initially sided with the newspaper, saying that the entertainer and his partner's public image of commitment gave an element of public interest to whether they had casual sexual encounters.
The appellate court then reversed the judgment.
"The claimant had an expectation that his sexual encounters will remain private," the court said. "The proposed story, if it is published, will be devastating for the claimant."
The court also said if the story were published, it would put the couple's children at risk.
"The children would become the subject of increased press attention, with all that that entails," the court said. "Furthermore, even if the children do not suffer harassment in the short-term, they are bound to learn about these matters from school friends and the internet in due course."
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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