How much privacy can sports stars now expect in the UK?

Published 28 September 2015 By: Amber Melville-Brown

Paparazzi_Through_Car_Window

A footballer is playing away; a cricketer is caught out; an athlete has gone off track; a baseball star has made a home run – but to the wrong home. Are these private matters that our sporting heroes can expect to be kept private? Or must our celebrity sport stars suffers the slings and arrows of media intrusion, and accept that their antics are at risk of being plastered over the pages of the press and captured in paparazzi pictures for the world to gawp at over their Sunday morning breakfast tables?

Today, an individual's inherent need for privacy is exacerbated by the nature of modern media, which panders to our growing interest in the private lives of others, especially celebrities. The British public in particular perhaps, but also across Europe and the world, has a craving for celebrity, and from icons of the silver screen to the stars of the pitch, we are fascinated both by their public persona and by what goes on in their private lives. As the omnipresent Internet spins its web around the globe, with online newspapers, blogs and postings by ‘citizen journalists’ spread across social networking sites, there is little room to hide and every possible risk of further incurrences into privacy. So the interim injunction in the recent court case AMC & KLJ –and- News Group Newspapers Limited (NGN)1 (“AMC”) has been a surprise but welcome decision for those seeking to guard their privacy, especially those in the public media spotlight.

This article analyses the AMC case, comments on the current position of the privacy vs. free speech debate under law, and sets out key points for athletes to consider when seeking to protect their privacy. References in square brackets (e.g. “[1]”) are to the relevant paragraphs of the AMC decision, which can be accessed via the hyperlink above.

 

Background

AMC has got tongues wagging in the legal media field; led to intakes of breath in the newsrooms of the British tabloids; and has caused eyebrows to be raised in the locker rooms of sports men and women far and wide - because it was unexpected.

There had been a spate of privacy injunctions granted in Britain during what was termed by commentators 'privacy injunction spring' in 2011, leading to the press becoming very vocal about its argued chilling effect on free speech. The Master of the Rolls issued his Practice Guidance2 as a result, laying down parameters to limit so-called 'super injunctions' where the names of the parties, the private facts to be protected, and even the fact that the injunction had been granted, were kept from publication.

At the same time, particular judicial attention was being paid to the identity of the applicant so that his or her status as a 'role model' became a major factor in determining whether there was a public interest justification in disclosing the otherwise private fact at issue. However, while AMC is only the voice of one judge in one pre-publication, interim injunction application, it is perhaps a weather forecast of things to come.

 

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Amber Melville-Brown

Amber Melville-Brown

Amber Melville-Brown is a media law specialist and head of Withers' Reputation Management team.

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