Privacy ruling could kill kiss and tell

Stories about the property dealings of Tony and Cherie Blair, their penchant for new age lifestyles and allegations that the Beckhams’ marriage is not as perfect as they publicly portray could all be covered by a cloak of secrecy in 2007.

Yet the private lives of ordinary members of the public will still be fair game for the press. This was the stark warning issued by media lawyers reacting this week to a landmark Court of Appeal ruling – which one said has ‘sounded the death knell for tabloid kiss and tells”.

The Court of Appeal has upheld the right of Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt to ban publication of certain passages in a book entitled Travels with Loreena McKennitt: My Life as a Friend by Niema Ash.

The passages covered personal and sexual relationships, McKennitt’s feelings about her fiancé, who drowned in 1998, as well as details of her health and diet.

Crucially, the author was not an employee – or someone else bound by a formal confidentiality agreement – but a former friend of the singer. Author Ash denied she was bound by any duty of confidence. But Lord Justice Buxton said he backed Mr Justice Eady’s earlier High Court conclusion that the ‘confidence’between the two women was ‘shared’only in the sense that McKennitt had admitted Ash to her confidence, which Ash knew should be respected.

Explaining the significance of the ruling, media lawyer Mark Stephens said: ‘Tabloids are going to have to reinvent the staple of the Sunday morning and I think we are going to be down to vicars and choirboys again.

‘Celebrities who can afford expensive lawyers and QCs are going to be shielded from rigorous examination whereas Joe Public, who can’t afford lawyers, is going to be the new victim of the Sunday morning media.

‘Libel lawyers have thrown off the shackles of libel and have taken up the privacy cloak of invisibility. It has sounded the death knell of tabloid kiss and tells. ‘What we have to be careful of is that scoundrels are not now allowed to hide behind spin doctored images.’He added: ‘If you want to write about the government or big business or something of that kind you’re not going to have a problem, but if you are going to do a story about a member of the government or a businessman acting in a personal capacity, then you’ve got problems.’Newspapers are already effectively banned from publishing pictures of celebrities’ children – unless when appearing at a public event – by the June 2004 Caroline of Monaco European Court ruling.

The McKennitt ruling appears to extend the law of privacy – under article eight of the Human Rights Act – further still.

Media law expert Caroline Kean, from Wiggin, said this latest ruling – handed down just before Christmas – will have major ramifications for journalists.

She said: ‘There is a certain type of celebrity who needs the media more than the media needs them, and it is unlikely that this decision will have any profound effect on well-established titles such as Heat and Closer.

‘But the publishers of Sunday tabloid revelations and unauthorised biographies do need to beware. The Court has made it plain it will issue injunctions to protect people in the public eye – which includes politicians and heads of public companies – from revelations being made about anything where they ‘had a reasonable expectation of privacy’ by their friends, former partners and employees, unless there is a serious public interest in the material being made public.

‘It is unlikely that we would have been entertained by the nanny’s revelations about the Beckhams if a case came before the Court now, and there is a real risk we would be unaware of the Blairs’ new age tendencies and expansion into property owning.

‘McKennitt can be distinguished as one of the very rare celebrities who carefully guards her personal privacy and not every celebrity will be granted the same protection – but the courts have confirmed a powerful new weapon in the hands of people with something to hide.”

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