Do superinjunctions work these days?

Posted on April 26, 2011


I’ve been quiet recently writing a book on the effects of social media in the Middle East and North African revolutions (the conclusion is that it’s negligible, especially in relation to the press perception of how much it affected the uprisings), so apologies for that. You might expect me to therefore argue a different tack to what I’m about to say in relation to the world of superinjuctions. However in light of the news that the BBC’s Andrew Marr took out a superinjunction to silence coverage of an affair he had, I’m going to argue the opposite.

I already knew that.

The rumour – unreported, of course, until today thanks to Marr himself going public – was that Marr was a bit of a womaniser (seemingly the gravelly voice and large satellite-dish ears is a turn-on for women) for years. It just was never able to be transferred from whispers in pubs and thinly veiled hints on message boards into the printed press, where everything becomes gospel. But it did exist, thanks to the same media which helped (partly, and only partly) people in Egypt and Tunisia overthrow their old time dictators. From the book:

a lot of the information received via social media websites and the internet is painfully unverified. As we have explored, more information than ever is being pumped out by a variety of sources – almost all of whom no longer adhere to a traditional hierarchy of credibility. The problem with removing that hierarchy of trust, whereby a dispatch from a 13-year old blogger can be treated (without many words of disquiet) with the same veracity as a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, is that it allows mistruths to be distributed almost as easily as actual worthy news. Within this slew of information, more and more mis (or dis) information can slip out unverified.

However it also works the other way: within the slew of information, there are likely to be some golden nuggets of truth. You just have to pan more carefully for them.

Superinjunctions are seemingly pointless these days, just as dictatorships almost are. It’s like trying to harness a tank with a horse bridle: the availability of technology, and the number of paths those rumours which superinjunctions are supposed to suppress can take, means that the news will get out eventually.

It might not yet reach as wide an audience as it should (a case proved in the recent revolutions: by and large the uprisings which received the most mainstream media coverage, with their larger audiences, succeeded. Those that were overlooked, such as Bahrain, or those who came a cropper to circumstances, such as Libya, which had the news agenda snatched from it by an earthquake, tsunami and subsequent near nuclear meltdown, have found it more difficult). Yet it will still reach an audience, and thanks to the ubiquity of conversation that takes place across text messaging, message boards and email – some of which are private, some of which are public media – it can come pretty close to entering the public consciousness without independent verification from the traditional news media.

By best guesses there are 30 superinjunctions currently being upheld by the court against news media from reporting on the infidelities of footballers and businessmen, and the mistakes of multinational corporations. We probably already know about the peccadilloes of the majority of those who have sought protection from the courts: we just can’t say it in anything louder than a whisper to our friends.

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