â€"The more you choose to live in the goldfish bowl then the less protection you are going to get”

By Jon Slattery

The News of the World believes the outcome of its legal battle with
the Beckhams depends on the question of whether the case is viewed as
being about “protecting private lives or protecting public lies”.

The result of the legal proceedings against the Beckhams’ former
nanny Abbie Gibson and the paper – which the NoW said it will
“vigorously defend” – will have widespread ramifications for the
relationship between celebrities and the press.

The Beckhams are
seeking aggravated damages from the NoW, after amending a writ already
issued against the paper over articles about the state of their
marriage.

Round one of the battle went to the NoW on Saturday
night when it beat an attempt by the Beckhams to gag the paper from
running revelations by their former nanny, who it was claimed was in
breach of a confidentiality agreement. High Court judge Mr Justice
Langley accepted the arguments of the NoW’s lawyers that there was a
clear public interest in the story being published.

The paper won the right to publish at 8.30pm, which meant the seven-page story got into the main editions.

Tom
Crone, legal manager for NoW publisher News Group Newspapers, said:
“The question is, was the injunction all about protecting their private
lives or was it about protecting their public lies?”

The NoW, in
fighting the injunction, returned to denials and threats of legal
action that the Beckhams had made in the past about stories involving
David Beckham’s relationships with Rebecca Loos and Danielle Heath, and
the state of their marriage that were in the public domain.

Crone
said: “It is a case that is going to be quoted for some time in the
terms of the balance swinging one way or another. The balance swung
that way because of who they are and that they had chosen to issue
denials of previous stories which we returned to.

“The more you
choose to be famous and the more you put yourself out there and choose
to live in the goldfish bowl then the less protection you are going to
get – especially if the image you put out can be shown to be a
deliberately false one.”

The NoW said its reports did not involve
the Beckhams’ children and no photos of them were used. Circulation of
the paper last weekend was described as “a sales success”.

More revelations are planned this weekend.

“We have our lawyers standing by and they have theirs. We’ve had a battle but the war may not be over,” Crone said.

Caroline
Kean, head of litigation at Wiggin, said of the injunction ruling: “I
think it is going to open the floodgates to the disclosure of almost
any personal information about anybody who sets themselves up as a
celebrity.

“It does show that, in principle, the courts are much
more inclined to agree to publication going ahead where it is a
celebrity. If I was a celebrity or public figure I would not feel my
secrets were safe.”

The heart of the case is that employees can
break confidentiality agreements if they can expose wrongdoing. A wide
interpretation of wrongdoing in the case of celebrities can be that
they are hypocritical – presenting one face in public and a different
one in private.

Some lawyers claimed that there would be no point
in the Beckhams continuing their action against the NoW and Abbie
Gibson once the story had been published on Sunday.

Others believe they want to pursue the NoW to stop any of their employees selling stories now or in the future.

The
NoW’s victory has not been universally welcomed. The Guardian, in a
leader this week, asked: “Can it be long before newspapers try to place
‘nannies’ with celebrities knowing that they will be protected if the
nanny encounters evidence of hypocrisy. It may all be the price of
freedom of the press. That doesn’t mean we have to like it.”

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