Max Mosley Says Newspapers Must Alert Famous People Before Writing Stories About Them

from the prior-restraint-for-the-rich-and-famous dept

Ima Fish alerts us to the bizarre idea of Max Mosley, the former head of the international motorsports organization FIA, to create a special rule for the rich and famous that would require the media to alert them to any stories mentioning them before publication. Mosley, of course, had a… um… well-known privacy incident a few years back, described in the above link by Kashmir Hill thusly:

In 2008, News of the World published a story about Mosley’s raunchy role-playing rendezvous with five sex workers, in which they played prison guards to his naughty prisoner. One of the sex workers had a camera supplied by the tabloid, so the story had a graphic video component. The News of the World focused on the fact that the sex workers spoke German throughout the role-playing, and thus described it as a “Nazi orgy.”

Not only was Mosley miffed to be part of a sex sting story, he said News of the World mischaracterized his sex fantasy. He said it was just a German prison camp, not a Nazi German prison camp (a crucial distinction… especially given that his father was Oswald Mosley, head of the British fascists who did associate with Nazis). Mosley sued News of the World for defamation and invasion of privacy. He won his case and was awarded nearly $100,000 plus legal fees. Heil yeah.

Of course, by that point the “damage” had been done, and everyone knew about his private sex life. I can understand how that’s problematic and upsetting, and would make one want to do something. But, overreacting in the other direction is not a good idea. Yet, Mosley has now asked the European High Court to declare that the UK press is required to tell anyone famous before they write about them, so that if those rich and famous folks desire it, they can go to court to get an injunction barring the story from being published. Think of it as freedom from the press, rather than freedom of the press. A court ruling isn’t expected for many months, but hopefully it comes back with a succinct “nein,” to the idea.

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Comments on “Max Mosley Says Newspapers Must Alert Famous People Before Writing Stories About Them”

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Christopher (profile) says:

Personally, there are some times when the press should NOT be allowed to write any story they wish. In a case like this, where it is clearly about smearing a person, the story should not be written in the first place.

Not to MENTION that the harm from a WRONG STORY or FRAUDULENTLY WRITTEN story can ruin a person’s life! I’m thinking that all countries in the WORLD should have this, along with stronger slander and libel law that basically say that if a story doesn’t have a LEGITIMATE PUBLIC PURPOSE (exposed someone’s secret sex fantasies does not) that the press can be forbidden to write about that.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Thus the lawsuit ending in $100,000 plus legal fees.

The press is already forbidden from writing fraudulent stuff, doesn’t stop them from doing it. That is why they have slander and libel laws.

If news outlets were required to get permission to publish stories, then it is a first amendment issue since anyone could just stop them from publishing an inconvenient truth.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Freedom of speech in some cases has to bow to the rights of a person not to be smeared in the press and personal privacy (I don’t think that anyone has the right to know what I am doing sexually, unless it is illegal).

To be blunt, the United States takes freedom of speech WAY too far in some cases, and not far enough in others. The total reverse of what it should be.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Personally, there are some times when the press should NOT be allowed to write any story they wish.

And that’s why they get punished for writing things that violate the law.

Doesn’t mean there should be such prior restraint.

Not to MENTION that the harm from a WRONG STORY or FRAUDULENTLY WRITTEN story can ruin a person’s life!

That’s what libel law protects against.

I’m thinking that all countries in the WORLD should have this, along with stronger slander and libel law that basically say that if a story doesn’t have a LEGITIMATE PUBLIC PURPOSE (exposed someone’s secret sex fantasies does not) that the press can be forbidden to write about that.

Who determines what is a legitimate public purpose?

Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Who determines what is a legitimate public purpose?

Ideally, the editors of the newspaper in question, who should determine whether or not the public interest is served by running with the story.

I strongly agree with you that this should not be a legal issue. This should entirely be an issue of good taste and editorial discretion. I don’t know anything about Max Mosely (certainly not as much as I know about his father!), but it seems to me that the Barney Frank Rule should apply here.

There should be no law against printing anything that is true. However, editors should, based entirely on their own good taste, good judgement and sense of propriety, not report on someone’s personal life just because they can. If someone publicly condemns the scourge of adultery while secretly having an affair on the side, that is news. As far as I can tell, this is not what’s happened here.

We can and should publicly condemn a newspaper who runs with a story which is based entirely on prurient interest rather than the public interest. We may even vote with our wallets and refuse to buy their paper, or refuse to advertise in it. But it shouldn’t be illegal.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Exactly what I was pointing out. I have no problem with stories that show that someone is being two faced about subjects by pointing out their own behavior contrary to their stated beliefs.

But if the article in question is just to satisfy prurient (I never thought I would use that term) public interest in a person’s life? The articles shouldn’t be written.

The fact is that you CANNOT rely on editorial discretion anymore, because newspapers are all about SELLING NEWSPAPERS!

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Then they shouldn’t run for office or take jobs requiring extreme amounts of publicity. I mean, that seems like a pretty easy answer to me. Like this:

Q. Don’t want to be famous?
A. Then don’t take a job that will make you famous. Or get caught having sex with a goat.

Heck, even if I published my secret sex fantasies, no one would care, because I’m not in the spotlight for any reason. In fact, I’d probably be TMI’d, depending on where I published the information.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

What would that (secret child sex fantasies) have to do with the ability to fulfill the office of President?

No, it doesn’t seem newsworthy to me. I imagine just about everyone has some fantasy that’s gross and disgusting to someone else. Not to condone anything having to do with victimizing children, but what does it matter? Some people look on gay fantasies in that way. Should it be newsworthy if the President were to be known to have harbored a same-sex fantasy? Again, what does it matter?

If said President actualy ACTED on those child sex fantasies, THEN perhaps we’ve got a newsworthy issue. A President charged with enforcing our laws would then have broken them. That’s a different story.

I don’t care (nor should anybody else) if the President dresses up in Edwardian-era women’s clothes and near-asphyxiates himself by hanging from a silk sash tied to a closet bar in the Lincoln Bedroom while jerking off to Gregorian chants and muttering about performing carnal acts with goats. Unless he does it on company time. And I, for one, am willing to give him a few hours free time in the evening to pursue personal interests.

And it certainly doesn’t seem “newsworthy” to me. Merely because small-minded people love to wallow in the feeling of looking down upon an embarassed celebrity does not make the failings of these celebrities “newsworthy”.

And the thing of it is, it’s celebrities today. It’s you and me tomorrow. We already see how everyday people are humiliated by the fact that they were unlucky enough to do something embarassing in range of a camera held by someone ready to blast it around the world. I don’t see that gettin’ any better any time soon.


Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Not in all people’s opinion. Personally, I have no problem with pedosexuality and view it as the ‘boogie man’ of the era, now that homosexuality and heterosexuality outside of marriage is not allowed to be bashed upon.

Need I remind that 40 years ago, pedosexuality was ALLOWED. Child pornography was ALLOWED. It was only after homosexuality was starting to become accepted that they turned to pedosexuality for another ‘boogie man’ for society and started with the bullplop that “Children cannot make their own sexual choices!”

I know better, because I was as a child, with adults as well as other children.

Anonymous Coward says:

So the press did something the courts found improper and wrong…now he wants to create a law that would overburden society because one member of the press did something that was found intolerable by the courts.

This is like requiring you to notify 7-11 before you rob them.
Or notifying the police you will be speeding before you do so.

Or telling the world you have a huge hard drive of secrets from a top bank in the US that your going to leak out….lol

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The problem is that adding this would NOT be burdening society or overburdening them. It would give a person a chance to say “WHOA! The public has NO RIGHT to know this information, because I was NOT doing anything illegal!”

I’m personally HARSH on personal privacy. No one has the right to write stories about my personal sexual practices UNLESS they are illegal for some reason AND I have been charged with a crime!

The damage to my personal good name (whatever amount of it I/someone else has) would be too great if the story was in error.

Jeremy7600 (profile) says:

As an F1 fan for the past 10+ years, following the sport semi-closely over the years, through all the politics and rule changes and all the rest the FIA had a hand in, I can say this totally fits Mosley’s MO. When the original sex story hit, it was almost a foregone conclusion to everyone but Mosley that he should step down when his tenure was up. If you never followed any of the sports that the FIA sanctions you may not know that he is a power hungry “my way or the highway” type of leader. When he let his reign finally end I was elated. (Jean Todt is already a much more reserved and impartial leader, despite ties to Scuderia Ferrari)

Now to hear this, as I said, lines right up with his MO. He wants to wield power over his domain. To control what people read or hear about him. (the fact that others would benefit from this is coincidental, the only thing he cares about with this is the protection of his image)

Well, I hate to tell you Max, but if some rule is enacted in the UK, that doesn’t mean the whole world has to follow it; stories will get written and put on the internet for the entire world to read whether you like it or not.

He still hasn’t put to rest the claims that he raped and murdered a young girl in 1990.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Jeremy, it’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to put those claims to rest totally unless they find another person who actually did it or you are taken to court and found innocent.

That is the bottom line. That’s another reason why the press shouldn’t use names to describe SUSPECTS in a crime until the suspects are arrested/charged with a crime.

AC says:

It's called "Invasion of Privacy"

…and that’s why he won the lawsuit. It’s already not allowed, under penalty of.. loss of lawsuit, pay money. It’s a lawsuit, not a crime.

The request for notification, prior censorship, etc. runs counter to all the established “fredom of the press” standards. This is exactly what the freedom of the press means – until it is published, it is not a crime, lawsuit, or anytihng actionable. After it’s published – then you can seek remedies for damage done. The risk of damages should encourage the press to show restraint and good judgement, and in general, it does.

Considering how many public (or “in the public eye”) positions have morals clauses, explicit or implied, the newspaper may have thought this was a good idea. It’s always nice to know if your $1M/year CEO is a closet Nazi, susceptible to blackmail, or whatever else may cost the organization in goodwill or business.

OTOH, your off time is your own for 99% of the people in this world. But if the CEO whines that the outrage over destroying a major tropical sea ecology is ruining his yatching weekends, maybe we are entitled to know that datum.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

Our society has an unhealthy interest in the lives of celebrities.

We go WAY overboard in our voyeurism of celebrities, and it really should be ratcheted back quite a few notches.

My thought is that “public figures” (for whom privacy protections are generally weakened in the public interest of promoting free speech) should only be considered such when they are actually doing the thing that makes them a public figure. So, the dashing movie star would be fair game for pictures, etc. when he is on the set, attending a gala debut, etc., BUT, should be considered strictly a private citizen and left alone when walking his dog in the park or trying to go grocery shopping or have a quiet meal out with the dining partner of his choice.

It’s nobody’s business who celebrities are sleeping with, whether they’ve cheated on their spouses, if they got sloppy drunk at a party and said something embarassing, or whatever. It’s not even clear to me that the public has a legitimate interest in publicizing a celebrity who gets arrested (they certainly currently have the legal right to publish/read such reports, but it’s not what I would call “legitimate” in it’s not clear what public interest this serves – a warning to stay off the road when Lindsay Lohan is driving?). Certainly arrest records are public, but most of us don’t have to worry that someone is going to pick our mug shot out for plastering on the front page of a checkstand gossip rag or posting on some cheezy blog. There’s a difference between a public record and a publicized record.


RobShaver (profile) says:

Define Famous

So who will define who is famous? Who will keep the list? If someone isn’t famous then won’t writing about them automatically make them famous? If a newspaper wants to write about Ted Kaczynski do they have to notify him before publishing? Can you write about a famous dead person? If so, who do you notify?

I don’t see much danger of any rules like this getting enacted.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why do you need to define “famous” in order to have the right to be left alone and not have your private business publicized to the world?

If the victim can show that the facts being publicized do not seem to have anything to do with the thing that makes him famous (e.g., for an actor, it didn’t happen while on the set, or at a publicity event, etc.), then the burden should shift to the “reporter” to explain why the victim’s fame somehow overrides his right to privacy.

Not the current state of the law, I know. Just the way it oughta be. I think a citizen’s privacy should generally trump someone else’s freedom of speech, if the two are actually in conflict.


Mike says:


I just checked the reports of Mosley”s application to the European Court of Human Rights. There’s nothing about protecting the rich and famous. On the contrary, one of his arguments is that prior notice will give people a chance who don’t have lawyers to hand.

he’s right when it comes to the UK tabloid press. They don’t dothe checks that all USA reporters insist on

Keith Gerrard says:

Anything that goes some way to get rid of vile people like Murdoch and his evil media empire MUST be a good thing.
The media now totaly controls politics and economics in the west and it is time things were changed.
Mosley is not trying to gag the press on relevent stories, he is helping to rid our world of the criminal control that we all labour under.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:




Privacy > Free Speech


While some believe that you have tolerate the crap speech in order to make sure there’s room for beneficial speech, I disagree.

Just like your proverbial right to swing your fist stops at the end of my nose, your right to free speech should end at the personal life of another individual.

Free speech is, in a way, merely an expression of the more fundamental right of being left alone. THAT is what the Bill of Rights is all about – the right to be left alone. To be left alone in what you say, how you worship, who you associate with, in your personal papers, etc., etc., etc. That is the core – the only, really – truly fundamental right we can lay claim to. And why should your right to be left alone in expressing yourself trump MY right to just be plain left alone? If the two are really in conflict, it seems the one who is treading upon the privacy of the other shuld be the one who gets pulled up short.

More people in our society should engage in some free thinking before they engage in free speech. The latter is cheapened without a healthy dose of the former.


Jerry Leichter (profile) says:

Historical background

There’s a bit longer-term history here. European countries, for a long time, had special laws protecting the aristocracy (and members of government, though there wasn’t much of a difference at the time) against criticism. Non-aristocrats were not considered to have reputations of any worth that needed to be recognized by the legal system. Similar laws continue to exist through most of the non-democratic world today, and provide handy ways to harass anyone who criticizes the leadership.

The US rejected special rights for the aristocracy from its founding. As a result – through a long evolutionary process – its notion of a free press included rejection of prior restraint on publishing pretty much anything. The phrase that “the best response to bad speech is more speech” pretty much summarizes the American view.

European law, as it democratized, took the opposite approach: Rather than eliminating the protections, it applied them to all citizens. That’s where Europe’s stricter approaches to privacy come from.

Of course, these are broad generalizations. The US has libel laws (even if it doesn’t have prior restraint) and Europe has press freedoms that, in practice, rarely differ in actual application from American ideas. Individual European countries differ on many of the details. Still, it’s good to understand the broad outline in order to make sense of the arguments.

The interesting thing about this particular proposal is that it attempts to set the clock back (by 100 years or more). Special protections for the famous? Are the famous the new aristocracy?

I think it’s unlikely this proposal will go very far, but Americans may be surprised by the way the discussion develops. European law isn’t nearly as dead set against prior restraint as US law is. It’s more likely to look for a balance between individual privacy and press freedom.

I would expect the first line of objection in Europe to be that this is a discriminatory law, providing extra rights to some that are not available to others. If famous people should have the right to see upcoming stories about themselves – so should everyone. But once you cede that principle, it becomes clear that such a law would destroy news reporting. Every story is about *someone* – usually multiple someone’s – and it’s just impossible to get pre-clearance from everyone involved. Since publication of important information is itself a social good, this would clearly set the balance all wrong.

[Realistically, my guess is that this goes nowhere at all, not even to any kind of public debate. Very few people really care that a grown man managed to embarrass himself. Now, if the story had involved embarrassment of an innocent third party – perhaps a child – it might have garnered some sympathy.]
— Jerry

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