It was a shock to arrive home from worship at lunch time today and read the news of David Frost’s sudden death. Not that I knew him, of course, but for eight years of my ministry I lived in what was known locally among Medway Methodists as ‘the Frost manse’. He had grown up there when his father, the Reverend Paradine Frost, had been the local Methodist minister. (Hence David’s middle name of Paradine and his production company being named Paradine Productions.) If Sir David was at the forefront of the British satire explosion in the early 1960s, their roots were not in his Cambridge University days, as some might claim, but in his young character. I can think of a church member who was in Sunday School and Youth Club with him who said how mischievous he was then, and an organist at the crematorium who confirmed similar stories from his school days.
While I was living there, BBC2 filmed a tribute night to Sir David. It included a scene where he stood outside ‘my’ manse. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in at the time of filming, and I only learned about it later from a friend, Jen Doragh, who sometimes comments here.
One thing he deserves to be remembered for, I believe, is the deeply moral streak he brought both to satire and to political interviewing. Without That Was The Week That Was, there would be none of the moral critique you find in the satire of people like Ian Hislop. Although people will remember his interviews with Richard Nixon and with Margaret Thatcher after the sinking of the Belgrano, his 1967 grilling of the fraudster Emil Savundra was surely a landmark in broadcasting. He paved the way for the searing scrutiny of public figures we see today. It is a shame that not all of today’s political broadcasters have the subtlety that Frost showed at times.
Rest in peace, Sir David.
Super-injunctions – the practice of famous people taking out an injunction to prevent the reporting of something bad about them, combined with an order preventing reporting even of the existence of the injunction – are much in the UK news lately. Reports suggest that up to thirty such orders currently exist. So thirty famous people have obtained court orders preventing the public from knowing something about them that would presumably tarnish their images.
A week or two ago, one such super-injunction was exposed: Andrew Marr, well-known political journalist for the BBC and one-time editor of The Independent newspaper, managed to suppress reporting of an affair he had with another journalist, even though he is a married man. This was brought to wider attention by Ian Hislop of the satirical magazine Private Eye (although three years ago a right-wing political blog wrongly claimed more than that about the situation). Hislop accused Marr of hypocrisy: Marr interviews people and examines their moral motives for political decisions, yet he tried to hide his own moral failings. Marr said he was uneasy about the action, but wanted to protect his family.
This week, the subject is back in the news in reports that a Twitter user has tried to reveal the identities of some celebrities who have resorted to this expensive legal tactic. Presumably, that will end in court for the user, either being sued for defamation or charged with contempt of court. Also, Max Mosley has lost his case at the European Court of Human Rights.
So how might Christians think about super-injunctions? One strand is the issue of power and wealth. Only those with power and wealth seem to have recourse to this action. No person in the street can suppress unfavourable stories about themselves. As with the libel laws, there is one law for the rich and one for the rest. Although imagine the Legal Aid bills – is that a sign that this whole approach is wrong? Is this more a matter of economic generation for lawyers?
Then there is the public and private issue. Where do we draw the line between what the public would like to know and what is in the public interest? The two are not necessarily the same. Is there a right to privacy for a public figure, or does the courting of fame mean forfeiting privacy? Surely not. What about those who invite us into their home lives, in exchange for a hefty fee from a glossy magazine? And what is the difference between genuine public interest and the voyeurism that passes for popular journalism in some quarters, voyeurism that sells papers and magazines, because it taps into an unhealthy popular instinct?
However, privacy is surely about dignity rather than hiding sin. The main argument for privacy, surely, is the protection of others. Was Marr right in that respect, or was he covering his own back? Perhaps we shall never know. It will have become horrendous to be one of his family members, knowing that either children at school are saying things to their faces, or that adults are saying things behind their backs. However, privacy and dignity are not about pretending that sin hasn’t happened.
Further, what exactly is the relationship between the famous and the press? Famous people need the press, but are there limits? And what does it achieve to keep these things out of public sight? It suggests that image is more important than truth, authenticity, integrity and all those unfashionable qualities. Is this another sign of a culture besotted with celebrities?
But does it matter? After all, does not the God of the Poor see? Will God not judge? Super-injunctions hide nothing from God. His justice is good news for those who do not have the financial muscle to benefit from our legal system.
A lot of Twitter users have tweeted that the remedy to this sad situation is that famous people should not commit immoral acts. And of course as a Christian I agree. However, we are also in the realms of people potentially making scurrilous claims online, too. Those do not need to be met by super-injunctions, though. The normal reaction would be a defamation case. However – again – the wealthy have the best access to such redress, since such cases do not attract Legal Aid, as I said above.
Even then, however much we might abhor the antics of the rich and powerful and their vain use of wealth and influence to cover their tracks there is still the Gospel opportunity of grace for those who repent. Do we Christians get caught up in the spirit of the age and show a similar prurience to everyone else when these cases are alluded to or reported?
What do you think?