In the end, it comes down to what the media want to fight for, and how they want to appear to the outside world. Will they rally around the BBC, who have deleted an investigative report into Trafigura and toxic waste dumping under legal pressure; or will they instead demand the right to print photos of a golfer's cock?
The whole Tiger Woods saga is something that no-one comes out of with very much glory. Not him, of course, and it's not a smart move to get the press ranked against you by trying to gag them. But not the press either. "Man has sex with woman" is a story as old as cave paintings and I'm yet to be convinced by an argument that it's in the public interest to learn about Woods's private affairs. His 'brand value' comes, in no small part, to being the second most successful golfer in history; it's not as if he's had a 'squeaky clean' image anyway, having sworn at snappers and spectators in the past.
You might say 'so what?' to that; I'd say: well yes exactly, so what? But that was on the golf course, where he's being a living, breathing ambassador for his brand, and no-one really seemed to mind that much. Yet all of a sudden, we're supposed to take events that happened in private into context when deciding whether we think someone should get money for flogging razors or sports drinks? As far as I can remember - and perhaps there exists footage that make persuade me otherwise - I've never seen an advert with him in it being a doting husband or stressing the virtues of his fidelity; at least, I can't remember one*. Generally it seems to be based around playing golf, which is what you might expect for a professional golfer. I couldn't give a shit what he does behind closed doors, to be quite frank, so long as he's not breaking the law.
But perhaps I'm in the minority, and it's a vastly important matter that our newspapers need to be concerning themselves with. Maybe it really is important. Maybe it's vital that we find out what everyone gets up to in the world of celebrity - who's had sex with whom, who's had an abortion, who's got AIDS, and so on, and so on. Maybe the private is public, if you're a 'celebrity', and that it's an either/or scenario. Maybe we should have cameras filming celebrities taking a shit, or being sliced up on the autopsy table, and watching their coffins disappear on the rollers towards the crematorium furnace. Maybe that's fair enough, because these 'celebrities' deserve it. I, though, don't see what we gain from it, or how it enriches our lives, or leaves us better informed.
The argument goes that a privacy law would only benefit those with something to hide. That would be a good argument if it were the case that the press more regularly tried to expose wrongdoing and criminality rather than a couple of people having sex with each other. I'm not sure that really is the case. I'd love to think there are dozens of Trafigura stories out there just waiting to be printed, but for those pesky gags. I'd like to hope so, but I'm not so sure.
All I wonder is whether it's the right war to fight. There is a campaign about libel reform building, and I can't help wondering if it might be damaged by a press that demands the right to print photos of a naked golfer, or tell you which celebrity has had a secret child with another celebrity, or tell you all the details about a celebrity's sex orgy; rather than a press that demands the right to be able to question things scientifically, or tell stories about toxic waste dumping. It's not the same kind of thing at all.
If you could prove that there would be a slew of investigative stories in the public interest that would leave readers better informed and able to make choices as a result of libel reform, then that would be a compelling case. If you could only prove that we'd get more lurid details of celebrities' sex lives instead of the real news, then that doesn't seem so compelling. But it's up to the newspapers and media outlets themselves to decide. Is the future Tiger Woods, or is it Trafigura? Or is it neither?
* Some news channels keep replying images of Woods picking up trophies and kissing his wife, as if to try and push the idea that it was all a big lie. If that's the case, what's he meant to do, start fucking someone else on the 18th green at St Andrews in order not to be labelled as a hypocrite?