Sometimes we are only partially engaged with a vital debate raging around us – mainly because we all have a ridiculous number of things to do. So while we all watched the best bits of the Leveson Inquiry (Celebrity Big Brother meets Silk?) getting into the detail of press freedom, of what privacy means, what freedom of expression is for and what, if any, boundaries there should be, takes a lot more effort.
But that effort is worth it because this is a critical moment in the history of free expression: witness the push for state regulation on the one hand and the pull of the internet and social media – which give us all the opportunity to publish – on the other.
This collection of essays will engage you in the debate. The contributors are authors in the literal sense of the word, people with authority on their subject such as: Mr Justice Eady, the philosopher Baroness Onora O’Neill, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and Gavin Millar QC. But don’t expect any answers: this is the law, there aren’t any.
The essays explore the development of the law of privacy and how it has become a competing right to freedom of expression. Both are actually human rights which were introduced to protect the individual against the state (in the wake of the state-sponsored atrocities of the Second World War and the emergence of communism in eastern Europe). Both are now pitted against each other in the courts.
There are passionate arguments from a variety of perspectives. Pia Sarma, editorial legal director at Times Newspapers, argues that the media inhabits the grey area between our private lives and an open society, and is often ahead of the law; for instance, the goalposts have moved on publishing individuals’ tax affairs after the public outcry over the rich and famous using tax avoidance schemes.
Withersworldwide partner and media specialist Amber Melville-Brown bravely makes the case for privacy, arguing that it is not just for (those same) rich and famous people, but necessary for all of us in an instagram-able world (though the legal costs may stand in our way).
Rusbridger argues for humility and self-improvement from the media, and a cheaper system of arbitration of disputes. But he also reminds us that it was a journalist, unshackled by state regulation – not a politician or a police officer – who uncovered the hacking scandal.
Author: James Lewis, Paul Crick (editors)
Publsiher: IBA and Palgrave Macmillan (£62.50)
Polly Botsford is a legal and current affairs journalist