How Judge Eady went from press villain to hero


8:47 am - June 26th 2009

by Sarah Ditum    


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It’s not unusual for public figure to experience severe reversals of reputation, and the distance between “nation’s sweetheart” and “national disgrace” can be as short as a few column inches. But Lord Justice Eady’s recent rehabilitation in the eyes of the press is a remarkable one – for the swiftness with which some editors have shifted position, and for what it suggests about the future possibilities for scrutiny in the media.

Around the end of 2008, Eady was the most unpopular judge on the circuit as far as newspapers were concerned. His rulings on privacy –  including extending indefinite protection from publicity to Maxine Carr, preventing the exposure of an adulterous sports star, and most famously awarding hefty damages to Max Mosley when he sued the News of the World for publishing details of a private S&M session – seemed to get lambasted every time a tabloid editor made a speech.


Judge Eady and Max Mosley

In a speech to the Society of Editors in November last year, Paul Dacre called Eady undemocratic, arrogant and amoral: according to the Mail editor, Eady was making no moral delineation […] between right and wrong “ and “allowing the corrupt and the crooked to sleep easily in their beds”.

Possibly more importantly, he was also “undermining the ability of mass-circulation newspapers to sell”. Rebekah Wade used her January Cudlipp lecture to accuse him of “[constraining] freedoms hard won over centuries”.

Some people (including me) were not awfully sorry to see the press getting a little curtailment on its powers of hounding. While Dacre and Wade presented themselves as valiant defenders of justice and propriety, the opposing points are pretty compelling. Private, consensual sexual activity can reasonably be expected to remain private: newspapers have got no business policing what goes in where.

And, despite the appeals to a sense of justice, press coverage routinely threatens to derail legal processes by prejudicing jurors before a trial can even begin.

In particular, the Guardian was low on sympathy for News International’s Eady-woes: the interview they ran with Max Mosley post-trial was criticised by Wade as “the epitome of self-flagellation” (no self-respecting journo would pass up an oo-er joke in the circumstances).

Then came the Simon Singh case.

Writing for the Graun’s CiF section, Singh stated that the British Chiropractic Association “happily promotes bogus treatments”. The BCA sued for libel, and Eady ruled against Singh. The phrase in question, noted the judge, constituted “the plainest allegation of dishonesty and indeed it accuses [the BCA] of thoroughly disreputable conduct.”

Regardless of the peer-reviewed evidence about efficacy, Eady found Singh’s comment libellous in what blogger Jack of Kent called an  “astonishingly illiberal ruling”.

Eady’s credit dipped low with bloggers, and lower still when he presided over the case which allowed the Times to out Night Jack.

There’s some obvious merit in the principle that blogging is a public activity with no reasonable expectation of privacy (even if it is strangely conflicted with a contemporaneous decision about privacy for judges guilty of misconduct). There are some important stories to tell behind internet anonymity. Just not in the case of Night Jack, who was apparently concealing nothing of substance apart from his name, and deleted his blog as a result of the publicity.

As far as several newspapers were concerned, this amounted to a victory for their freedom of speech, even as Night Jack’s was shattered: the Mail celebrated with a piece titled “Bloggers beware”. “The ruling is likely to have a knock-on effect for the thousands of other ‘bloggers’, who are now likely to be refused an injunction to stop newspapers from making their name public”, it added, ominously.

The Night Jack ruling looks like a departure from a series of decisions often characterised by a preference for privacy. But one way in which Eady’s judgements might be seen as consistent is in their restriction of scrutiny. Whether it’s scrutiny of private lives, scrutiny of scientific evidence, or scrutiny of frontline services by bloggers, all have become more difficult because of Eady’s decisions.

In an ideal world, privacy law and libel would never have come into these decisions. A robust Press Complaint Commission, for example, might be able to force all newspapers to look on the right to a private life as a default and demand that any breach of that right should fulfil the highest standards of public interest.

But while the PCC is what it is, Eady’s decisions have formed the best line of defence against intrusion, and newspapers are incentivised to go after only those who don’t have the means to sue.

Right now, that seems to include bloggers, and especially bloggers whose coverage challenges that offered by papers. If the kiss-and-tell is out, maybe the blog-and-tell is being lined up as a replacement.

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About the author
Sarah is a regular contributor and a freelance journalist and critic. She blogs at Paperhouse.
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Reader comments


1. Denim Justice

Paul Dacre, Rebekah Wade and Veronica Wadley are enemies of democracy.

I’d like to see some discussion as to why it is that some of the most powerful people in our society, behind the scenes, are women. And bloody hard too – Rebekah Wade was married to Ross Kemp. SHE beat HIM up!

2. Denim Justice

Excellent post btw Sarah. I read a lot of posts on LibCon and wonder how much better our mainstream media would be if it was written the way some of LibCon is.

The Anton Vowl piece about Susan Boyle you link to is also brilliant.

The question is, how do we take on Dacre, Wade and Wadley? They are very intelligent, manipulative and powerful individuals. But I genuinely believe a huge investment in universal education, and taking on these individuals, is the only way to save democracy.

3. Alisdair Cameron

BTW, is Lord Justice Eady the only judge working these days? You’d almost think so from his being allotted all of the high-profile cases and the covergae in the papers.

Unfortunately, the British libel laws effectively allow anyone anywhere in the world to bring a case against anyone else in the world, as long as the words could in theory have been accessed by someone in the UK.

Eady, who has tended to side with the plaintiff, is often their judge of choice for such cases.

Britain’s libel laws are broken and urgently need revision to restore some balance.

As for the outing of anonymous bloggers – it’s not something I really have an opinion on 😉

Yes it does seem a bit odd that this Judge gets all these high profile cases.

There’s so many issues here to pick too. Yes, the PCC is rubbish. Dcare / Wade etc are supremely hypocritical.

But can that many bloggers serve as newspaper fodder? Who else high-profile is left?

Excellent article btw Sarah

Echo the sentiments about the quality of this post. It really is an excellent piece of writing. Hope we see more from this author.

The NightJack outing struck me as yet another instance of vindictiveness-against-bloggers that we will continue to see by the mainstream press, which – with a few exceptions – doesn’t understand the online medium, but is threatened by it.

The fact is that anonymity is an extremely important aspect of online writing for many people and it should be protected as such. Anonymity gives us ‘ordinary’ people a voice we can use to express ourselves online (ok, I use my full name, but that’s largely because I never had much to protect).

Because they’re ‘ordinary’ people and writers – and not overpaid, overrated government and/or business mouthpieces, as so many mainstream writers and commentators are – many bloggers rely on day jobs, etc, to pay the bills, which allows them to continue to write and express their thoughts and describe their experiences online. Describing those experiences and expressing those views is important.

Everyone who takes online writing seriously, and contributes to blogs and forums, etc, is doing their bit to contribute to the drawing of a much more honest and well-rounded picture of life at this point in history than the mainstream press is inclined to present. I didn’t always like NightJack – didn’t feel he was much of a socialist, to say the least – but I found his blog very good and interesting, because it seemed an honest take on policing and took me a bit further inside a world that I didn’t know much about. Didn’t always like the views expressed therein, but that was never the point.

Bottom line is that anonymity allowed that copper to write that blog. As soon as he was outed, the blog disappeared, and so a certain freedom was lost. Anonymity is a weapon that the people, if I can describe us as such, have at our disposal at the moment. The Times’ action was an attack on that weapon, if you like. Very anti-democratic.

Crucially, these sorts of ‘outings’ totally blow the newspapers own “public interest” defence out of the water. I recall that when the identity of ‘Girl With A One Track Mind’ was revealed, the content of her blog changed dramatically as a result. And as you say, NightJack deleted his blog.

Note also that the two examples I mention were outed by supposed ‘quality’ broadsheet papers, not the down-market tabloids.

I’m sorry I don’t understand the argument. Is it that newspapers will go for bloggers now that they can’t go for people with the means to sue and this is why Judge Eady is not a villain in their eyes or is it an argument that Judge Eady is somehow upholding privacy and thus is a hero to your average person?
I’m not convinced that the vast majority of newspaper readers care one jot about bloggers. The NightJack thing only became of interest once he won a prize. I know bloggers like to think of themselves as the important but the facts often belie their beliefs. Also, if the argument is about newspapers undermining democracy then how is an unelected judge making arbitrary judgements on what publications can and cannot say not undermining freedoms of expression, and hence democracy?

PS The Mail piece linked to is hardly ‘celebratory’ – it’s remarkably straightforward and non-judgemental for the Mail.

9. Denim Justice

Gimpy has a point: the public don’t give a shit about bloggers.

10. Sarah Ditum

Hi Gimpy, thanks for the comment. I guess the argument is that Eady’s judgements are having a more complicated impact on privacy and scrutiny than the original blasts by Dacre and Wade suggested, and the way he is applying laws of libel and privacy seem to be having unintended consequences for scrutiny of all kinds.

I agree that there’s minimal public interest in bloggers. But there is a crude business interest in outing bloggers, where bloggers are perceived as encroaching on the newspapers’ patch. The Mail piece certainly gives the impression that they intend to reveal more bloggers’ identities in the future.

Good post. One thing to add is that in another area of libel cases, Judge Eady has consistently come down on the side of free speech. In both the Lewisham and Henley election leaflet libel cases he rules in favour of people having a very broad range of freedom to make allegations and comments in leaflets.

In response to Sunny’s comment, I think it’s deliberate that he gets so many of these high profile libel cases, because he is in effect the expert judge in this area – and, for better or worse, his ruling very rarely get overturned on appeal as I recall. In other words, problems with his rulings are more about what the law says than about how he interprets it, as otherwise more of his rulings would get overturned.

Thanks for the reply Sarah. I’m still not convinced that outing bloggers is going to be a popular print media strategy though. Many journos use/rip off bloggers as sources and will not want to ruin that relationship, I think it can be argued quite convincingly that The Times shot themselves in the foot by outing NightJack despite insufficient public interest because they’ve now come under some critcism and bloggers might be less likely to engage. Additionally, your arguments only apply to anonymous bloggers…

Also, IIRC Guido, bete noir of many here, was outed by The Guardian a few years back – petty act of revenge or in the public interest?

13. Sarah Ditum

“… petty act of revenge or in the public interest?” I’d say it was in the public interest to know who Guido is, but I couldn’t swear that it’s my concern for open debate speaking, or just partisan malice. I have a lot of both. I’m not absolute for privacy in the Night Jack case – like I said, I agree with the principle that blogging is public, but in this case I think the exposure cost more than it gained, and ideally it might have been thrown out on journalistic merit rather than ending up in court.

I think it’s quite likely that the Mail and other papers have an eye out for further juicy stories with the potential to embarrass bloggers. I mean, you wouldn’t think that Mail readers cared what was published inside Official PlayStation 2 Magazine, but the Mail still managed to turn that into a front page a few years ago. There’s an art to coaxing outrage out of even the unlikeliest material.

Re: Guido’s outing. Guido’s anonymity wasn’t vital, so outing him isn’t the same as outing Night Jack. For Paul Staines, Guido was merely a stylistic device.

Well I’ve no interest in defending Guido but outing him wasn’t in the public interest whereas outing NightJack could conceivably be seen as such (public servant apparently breaching contract).

On the wider subject of newspapers outing bloggers, I’m sure it will continue to happen, but it works the other way round too. The identity of Private Eye pseudonyms have been divulged on blogs.
What I find more interesting though is the partisanship that guides peoples responses to newspapers outing bloggers. The liberal media, either print or online, weren’t exactly rushing to Guido’s defence or criticising The Guardian in the way they have with NightJack.

@16 et al, I think it’s wise to take a step back when deploying the public interest criterion. Generally speaking I think we would all agree that the the media – print or online – should not have to demonstrate that the publication of a story is matter of ‘public interest’. we should – and generally do – assume an a priori right to publish.

we should consider the public interest in the publication of a particular story only when another important principle would potentially indicate that the freedom of press should be restricted. . I don’t really think that naming guido or nightjack is in the public interest. But that isnt really the point. While we have, throughout the ages, had journalists writing under pseudonums – the ability to anonymously engage in public discourse has never been enshrined as a positive, legally enforceable right. As such there is no reason why papers publishing their names should have to justify their interventions as being in the public interest, any more than the plethora of other pointless articles they publish.

17. Denim Justice

@14 What’s the story re: the Official Playstation 2 Magazine?

18. Sarah Ditum

I think the interesting thing about Night Jack is the argument that he counted as both a pseudonymous journalist (no identity protection) and his own anonymous source (in which case, there are conventions for preserving that anonymity).

Reading Jack of Kents’ commentary on the case, it looks as though the evidence could have been presented in another way and an outcome in Night Jack’s favour made more likely (http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2009/06/jack-night-and-privacy-case-analysis.html). It’s an interesting problem and I’m not convinced Eady’s judgement completely took account of that doubleness.

Still, legal protection of pseudonymity/anonymity is basically impossible online, where every post leaves a trail and no other blogger is likely to be held off by an injunction, even if you could hold the press at bay. For bloggers, the lessons of Night Jack are probably more practical than legal: if you want to blog in secret, you have to conceal yourself scrupulously from the start.

19. Charlieman

Debate isn’t a popularity contest, so I’ll go on record saying that the exposure of Night Jack was appropriate. His posts were about issues of public interest — police conduct and organisation, police investigations — and whilst NJ may not have written anything “wrong” prior to outing, Judge Eady was reasonable when he assumed that possibility.

For different reasons, Staines/Guido Fawkes needed to be outed. An understanding of the man’s background helps you to read between the lines of his posts better.

The identity of the overly opinionated sex blogger, Belle de Jour, is widely known. In spite of the author’s crimes against the English language, there is no public interest argument for exposure. Possession of a fantastic (look up the definition) sex life is a private concern.

20. Shatterface

Excellent article, Sarah and I think your followup distinction between a pseudonym and anonymity is an interesting one. A pseudonym involves a certain degree of roleplay, adopting a ‘character’ or persona. Anonymity is a disguise used for protection. There’s a certain degree of overlap but generally those who use a pseudonym don’t mind being ‘outed’.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Article: : How Judge Eady went from press villain to hero http://bit.ly/iqyCN

  2. sunny hundal

    Great article by @sarahditum – How Judge Eady went from press villain to hero – http://tr.im/pPSI – on media and blogs

  3. Liberal Conspiracy

    Article: : How Judge Eady went from press villain to hero http://bit.ly/iqyCN

  4. New post on Liberal Conspiracy: How Judge Eady went from press villain to hero « Paperhouse

    […] Paul Dacre, Politics, privacy, Rebekah Wade, Simon Singh, The Mail, The Sun, The Times by Sarah I’ve got a new post up at Liberal Conspiracy, where I ramble speculatively about the way Lord Justice Eady’s decisions on media law seem […]

  5. Debate around the web « The press, the media and regulation policy

    […] Sarah Ditum on Liberal Consipracy writes about Justice Eady and his reputation in the media: In an ideal world, privacy law and libel would never have come into these decisions. A robust Press Complaint Commission, for example, might be able to force all newspapers to look on the right to a private life as a default and demand that any breach of that right should fulfil the highest standards of public interest. […]

  6. The Mail in “against libel” shock « Paperhouse

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