The High Court decision in favour of Max Mosley, and the award of £60,000 damages, comes as no surprise, but leaves me cold. Like many others, I followed the court proceedings, as no doubt did Mr. Mosley, sitting gingerly throughout on a soft cushion before emerging, smug and triumphant, on the court steps. On any view, a sickening sight.
At the heart of the case was the Human Rights Act 1998, a misconceived piece of legislation if ever there was, unleashing the European Convention on Human Rights into the due legal process. Suddenly, overnight, everybody had a drum to beat, and the noise was deafening. Adopting Clint Eastwood’s memorable quip in Dirty Harry: “Opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one!”
It comes down to the conflict, real or imagined, between Articles 8 and 10, the right to respect for private life against freedom of expression.
Let’s examine the facts. Max Mosley, the Dirty Old Man of Formula One and a public figure of some prominence in the motor racing world, had been indulging in sadomasochistic ‘games’ for as long as he could remember with a variety of femmes fatales in the privacy of his own basement, and you can’t get much lower than that. But according to the News of the World, what made these sessions particularly offensive, and therefore newsworthy, were the Nazi overtones, barked commands in German and the frequent use of the word “Aryan.”
Mr.Justice Eady, in his wisdom, decided that the combination of these factors did not mock the victims of the Holocaust, which is an extraordinarily narrow and blinkered approach, and certainly doesn’t persuade me. I have consulted two dictionaries, Webster’s New World and the Oxford Concise, to research the meaning of “Aryan,” and both contain this definition: “(in Nazi ideology) a Caucasian not of Jewish descent.”
But whilst the News of the World justified its publication of Max’s sad sexual peccadilloes on the Nazi connection, I would go further and ask, rhetorically, why the private lives of the great and good should not be in the public domain? By their very prominence and positions of authority and public standing, aren’t we entitled to peep behind the curtain? If I were an F1 investor, surely I am entitled to know about the man running the show, warts and all. And surely the public and private persona are inextricably entwined? It tells us something about the man who seeks election to high office. It may not disqualify him, but at least we have the choice to vote for him or not. And the same applies to candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party, or an incumbent Prime Minister having sexual intercourse with one of his ministers [female] in a lift, or a bulimic politician cavorting with his secretary.
Public figures in all walks of life place themselves above the common herd. They are better than us, better qualified to hold the high office to which they aspire. And whether they like it or not, we the public assume they are fit to serve, and above all, that they are honourable. And if they are found wanting by even the most modest standards of our morally lax society, it is in the public interest for us to know. For my part, Max and his fellow camp followers are fair game, and to trouser £60,000 simply sticks in the craw.
I hope the News of the World has the courage to appeal this questionable judgment and to continue the fight for freedom of expression. That freedom is under threat as never before, and needs to be defended without fear or favour.