The decision to grant celebrities a legal right to privacy is in the hands of Mr Justice Morland as he considers the evidence he’s heard this week in Naomi Campbell’s landmark case against The Mirror.
The supermodel contends that the newspaper’s picture of her emerging from a Narcotics Anonymous meeting on the King’s Road in February last year was an invasion of her privacy and that it ran an escalating and vindictive campaign against her when she refused to co-operate.
But Mirror editor Piers Morgan took the stand to defend vigorously a newspaper’s right to publish a story of legitimate public interest about a figure who had "voraciously invaded her own privacy" in hundreds or even thousands of media interviews and appearances throughout her career.
It was, Morgan said, "utterly absurd" that Campbell should go after The Mirror on privacy grounds. Her use of illegal drugs was a legitimate concern because of her image as a role model, and although Morgan thought her legal action to be "self-defeating and pointless", he told the court that he welcomed the opportunity it gave him to air his views on celebrities wanting to control the way they were portrayed by journalists. "I just believe in freedom of speech and information," he said. "That’s the right of newspapers in this country."
He added that he thought the Press Complaints Commission was a better forum than a court of law for sorting out such issues, and would be a better way of dealing with these stories in the future. There was a debate to be had, he said, about stories involving medical treatment, where people were seeking psychiatric help, for example, or receiving treatment in clinics. He believed that, should judgment go against The Mirror, it would be a backward step for the way celebrities were treated by newspapers in future in similar stories.
Campbell’s counsel, Andrew Caldecott QC, rejected the claim that his client had "made a bargain with fame" or that published comments by her about her relationships with men such as actor Robert De Niro and U2’s Adam Clayton meant that she surrendered her right to privacy on matters relating to her health and well-being.
In publishing the story, he said, The Mirror had taken no account of the effect it would have on Campbell’s health or fragile state of mind.
Morgan said that one effect of self-regulation was that the Campbell story was presented in a far more sympathetic way than it would have been five or 10 years ago, when tabloids might have "nailed her to the floor on the front page as a sleazy drug addict".
"It was a serious story and the way we presented it was equally serious," he said. He dismissed as "ridiculous" the allegation that Sue Carroll had been racist in a Mirror column when describing Campbell as a "chocolate soldier" because she was ineffective as a campaigning celebrity. "I find that incredibly offensive to my newspaper. We have been at the forefront of combating racism in this country," he said. "Are you saying the word ‘chocolate’ is racist? If I have a cup of hot chocolate at night, am I being racist?"
Justice Morland is expected to reserve judgment.
By Ian Reeves