Iain Murray: Let’s defend our insatiable desire for salaciousness

Allow the Sunday People to play ball! The red-tops uphold our ancestral right to know how those on the public pedestal have fallen from grace. By Iain Murray

Of a Sunday morning in days of yore, the horny-handed peasant would rise from his wicker cot, rub the sleep from his eyes, flick a flea or two from his greasy breeches, mount his donkey and set off to buy a copy of Ye Sleaze – price one groat.

Fast forward a few centuries and his descendant pulls his union jack boxers over his body-pierced parts, dons tracksuit and trainers and sets off in his Beamer to buy a red-top tabloid.

The stories haven’t changed much over the years. The mediaeval peasant would grin through blackened teeth at the headline: “Squire Tremaine in droit de seigneur rumpus – Strumpet spills ye beans”; his latter day shaven-headed counterpart is amused by “Pregnant Jordan – her true story.”

And so from time immemorial the inalienable right of every free-born Briton to know exactly what happens on the palliasse or between the sheets of the rich and famous is handed down from generation to generation. To pass the sabbath picking over the peccadilloes of fallen role models, and to relish the hypocrisy of those in high places who have been caught with their pants down in low places, are measures of our freedom. If we had a written constitution, there would be in the preamble: “Whene’er the great and good and those upon whom fortune has bestowed celebrity [and they shall include weather girls and newsreaders] are discovered to have hoisted over their legs in divers ways calculated to cause moral outrage, such misdemeanours shall be recounted in full and without let in the public prints, the better to make known the calumny of those who have betrayed the blessed trust of the people.”

But wait, what is this? A judge who no one had heard of has driven a coach and horses through the ancient right to discover how many times who did what to whom (and whether they were any good at it); see pages 3, 4, 5, 6, 11, and 13.

In a landmark judgment (now the subject of an appeal) Mr Justice Jack ruled that there was no public interest in the publication of a married footballer’s adulterous sexual relationships with a lap dancer and nursery nurse. The judge based his decision on the 1968 case of a moped inventor whose idea was pinched by a manufacturer to whom he had revealed his blueprint in confidence. Mr Justice Jack said the same law should apply to sexual relationships, both inside and outside of marriage. So the Sunday People was thwarted in its duty to make the footballer’s name known to a wider public.

When the details of the decision were published, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Bad enough that a love rat should slip the trap, worse that his escape should create a precedent that effectively outlaws the stock in trade of the Sunday red-tops. With no kiss and tell, what would fill the pages? International news? Unthinkable.

The forces were quickly marshalled and at their head marched the ermined figure of Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. He thundered a warning, at once sonorous and terrifying. The judge’s decision, he said, effectively ended 300 years of press freedom and amounted to “free licence for the bully and cheat”.

Who could have dreamed that a moped designer with a grievance would topple “Press Freedom” from the throne on which she had sat for centuries?

Lord Wakeham spelled out the awful implications of the footballer gagging the scented breath of the Sunday People. “It means that celebrities who trade on their squeaky-clean image will be able to carry on doing so even if a newspaper knows they are less than squeaky-clean.

“It is important for everyone who cares about a free press to make a stand against this.”

And so we shall. “Last Word” stands shoulder to shoulder and four square with those whose mission is to expose celebrities who are falsely squeaky-clean. We shall not be diverted from our purpose by the mealy-mouthed wets who maintain that a squeaky-clean footballer is a contradiction in terms; that in bedding a lap dancer a premiership player shows himself to be precisely the role model admired by those who throng the terraces; that adultery is not a crime (we Taliban defenders of press freedom choose to stone adulterers metaphorically with the boulders of press exposure); that to maintain that marriage is a revered and sacrosanct institution in modern Britain is to proclaim a falsehood; that there is often a clear distinction between the public interest and what the public may be interested in.

Say what you will, we shall fight to the last breath in our body, the last drop in our veins, to defend those twin pillars of the tabloid press: prurience and revenge. It is the right of us all, should we wish, to spend our Sundays pursing our lips or drooling, according to preference, over the revelation that Mr X, the married footballer, wooed Miss C, the nursery nurse, with champagne, flowers and chocolates, before taking her to a hotel room and robbing her of what she held most dear. And it is the right of Miss C to supplement the meagre earnings from caring for her young charges by selling her recollections to the Sunday People. A whole industry is at risk here.

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