It was no legal secret that BBC presenter and former political correspondent Andrew Marr had secured an injunction in early 2008, preventing newspapers from reporting details about his private life. But this week was the first time the private information he had tried to protect was directly linked to his name.
Marr had sought a privacy injunction in January 2008, resulting in an anonymity order (I’m hoping to acquire more information on the legal background in due course). Because of the order’s anonymous nature, it became known in the media as a super injunction (definition). Its existence was reported, however, and the Inforrm blog says the media’s complaint was with “the ‘anonymity’ provision, not a ‘super’ restriction on disclosing the injunction itself.”
Writing in the Independent in June 2008, Richard Ingrams described how Private Eye had made it public that Marr had taken out an injunction. Later on, Private Eye reported in issue 1246, in October 2009:
So it was last year when Andrew Marr won an injunction to stop the media revealing “private information” about him – and to stop them revealing that he’d stopped them. Marr himself was on record arguing against a judge-made privacy law and calling for a public debate on the subject.
This week Marr’s name has been publicly linked to the information the injunction protected, as reported in his interview with the Daily Mail. Marr initially sought the injunction because he believed he had fathered a child (a DNA test later showed it was not his) during an extra-marital affair with another journalist.
So why has Marr decided to reveal (nearly) all now? The Daily Mail has suggested that Private Eye threatened a legal challenge to the order and Marr chose to overturn his own injunction, rather than return to the courts. According to the Mail, Marr said:
“I did not come into journalism to go around gagging journalists … Am I embarrassed by it? Yes. Am I uneasy about it? Yes … I also had my own family to think about, and I believed this story was nobody else’s business.”
Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, who used his ‘Have I Got News For You’ appearance on Friday to question the legitimacy of recent privacy injunctions said, on Tuesday’s Radio 4 Today Programme:
“As a leading BBC interviewer who is asking politicians about failures in judgment, failures in their private lives, inconsistencies, it was pretty rank of him to have an injunction while working as an active journalist … I think he knows that and I’m very pleased he’s come forward and said ‘I can no longer do this'”
While Hislop made it clear that Private Eye was not in a financial position to challenge all super injunctions, he said:
“Here was a case that was quite important and should be challenged so I wasted the money challenging it.”
The BBC’s media correspondent Torin Douglas commented that Marr was in a different position from most claimants:
“He’s a special case. Because he is a journalist he felt particularly embarrassed. Others are not in the position where they think the freedom of the press is more important than privacy.”
Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, was not the first person to point out the difficulty of Marr’s position when quizzing the former prime minister on his personal health issues. Marr, however, maintains that the facts protected in his privacy injunction were not in the public interest:
“I still believe there was, under those circumstances, no public interest in it.”
As media lawyer Mark Thomson noted on the Inforrm blog, the media chatter around privacy injunctions has intensified ahead of the first April bank holiday; whether another claimant unmasks themselves amid the Royal Wedding celebrations this weekend remains to be seen.
- BBC Profile, Andrew Marr
- Brian Cathcart, Index on Censorship
- Mark Thomson, Inforrm: Privacy Madness
- Joshua Rozenberg, Steve Hewlett and Ian Hislop on the Radio 4 Today Programme
- Meeja Law ‘super injunction’ page