What it must be like to face that junction. To the right lies fame, celebrity status and fortune. But the caveat? Knowing that you’ll never truly know peace again. Or to the left, we see the long, familiar road of anonymity: privacy almost guaranteed; financial freedom all but.
It’s a tough call. Life in the public eye is not for everyone, but goes with the territory of stardom. Even so, there must be limits.
Phone Hacking: Crossing the Line
The media must allow celebrities to draw a line between their public persona and how much of their private life they’re willing to share.
Once established, all parties should respect and adhere to those boundaries.
In the case of the Mirror Group, and before them the News of the World, ‘journalists’ metaphorically spat upon any semblance of ‘off-limits’.
When you see journalistic tendencies such as those revealed in court last week, it makes you wonder if anyone’s safe.
For the vast majority of us, no one would be interested in hacking our voice mails. Anonymity is the deterrent dissuading those who can from cracking the code and publishing the humdrum chapters of our lives.
For the eight soaperstars who received unprecedented damages last week, that’s not the case. They were braver. They turned right at that junction. They handed a slice of their lives to the public.
Squeezing Celebrity Juice until it Overflowed
Such a move is always a gamble. For them, they chanced that the fame and fortune of TV, film and the football pitch would add more value to their lives than invasions of privacy would detract from it.
For lengthy durations at the beginning of the noughties, the odds were unknowingly stacked against them. All eight recipients of the record-breaking compensation were victims of systematic phone hacking.
Whenever the journalists involved needed or wanted juice to fill out their headlines, they’d log into the Orange database and squeeze out stories from texts and voicemails left thereupon.
Apart from the obvious atrocity of the Mirror Group’s actions, these cases raised the bar from a punitive prospective.
The punishment: befitting the crime and the injustice
The amounts of compensation paid to the victims for this type of crime were unprecedented. Sadie Frost alone, a consistent target over a four year period, won over a quarter of a million pounds.
Compare that to payouts for prior breaches of privacy. Naomi Campbell, another long-time target of headline hungry news hounds, is a prime example. When her cocktail menu of drugs was published alongside snaps of her leaving therapy, courts awarded her £4,000 in damages.
The attitude of the judge, Mann J, to the long-running breaches of privacy left a predominant mark on the verdicts. It also served to differentiate the compensation payouts from prior awards of the same ilk:
He threw out arguments that these breaches of privacy were akin to cases that had gone before.
Where evidence had been destroyed, rather than settle for the middle ground, he presumed the worst.
Yes, he was intent on punishing the crimes.
- But it was the amount of distress suffered by the victims that helped determine the level of their respective payouts.
One would hope that phone providers have done their bit to shore up their databases. You’d hope that the punishments serve as a warning for others tempted to encroach on privacy in the future. But for now, these payouts are what you call justice, to a Mann.