How British journalists talk about people they're not allowed to talk about

The "super-injunction" (previously) is a weird feature of English and Welsh law through which the very wealthy can hire bulldog lawyers to get judges to pass an order prohibiting any newspaper or journalist from disclosing true facts about them, on pain of jail-time.



The latest super-injunction scandal involves a rich couple whose alleged threesome partner came forward to talk about their sex life. Their identities are easily discoverable with a quick search, especially since super-injunctions don't have force in Scotland, so the press there has been naming them freely. It's like a three-course Streisand Effect meal with Streisand Effect for pudding followed by withdrawal to the study for brandy, cigars and Streisand Effect, with a bag of petits-fours and Streisand Effect to take away with you.

But though the English and Welsh press is bound by super-injunctions and at great pains not to violate them, the journalists involved don't take them lying down. Instead, they employ a bunch of tells, tricks, winks, nudges and insider jokes to help the reader know who it's all about, and to tee up a court challenge to dismantle the injunction.

Popbitch has published a guide to the journalists' super-injunction hanky-code, and enraged the Sith lords of Carter-Ruck, who are the undisputed masters of the super-injunction. In blazing Popbitch style, they proceeded to republish and dismantle the lawyers' threat, while illustrating the best way to deploy fair dealing to quote such a letter without attracting copyright complaints.

It's a master class in media literacy and media law, in two posts. Bravo!

There are words we expect to see used with certain individuals. Take Bill Clinton. Let’s say he had tried to take an injunction out against a British newspaper trying to cover up the Monica Lewinsky story (which, obviously, he didn’t). And let’s say that injunction was granted, making it illegal for any journalist to publish the story, or explicitly allude to it. How would one go about dropping a hint that Bill Clinton was trying to cover that story up?

One way would be to use this technique. Instead of referring to him by one of the commonly expected descriptors (“42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton…” / “Commander In Chief, Bill Clinton…”/ “ex-Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton…”) a journalist might ignore his political achievements entirely and instead chose to focus on his saxophone playing.

It’s a perfectly legitimate and accurate thing to bring up, but a fairly unusual one – one that will almost certainly give a reader pause.

“Famed horn-blower, Bill Clinton…” maybe. Or “Sax-mad Bill Clinton”. Nothing that screams “MONICA LEWINSKY GAVE CLINTON A BLOWIE”, but enough to tip off those scouting for clues that they’re getting warmer.

Clearly that’s a hypothetical example, but this happens a lot more than you’d realise.

In-Jokes And Injunctions [Popbitch]

The Letter Of The Law [Popbitch]

(via Metafilter)