This was always going to end in only one way. It’s taken a few days, but the inevitable has finally happened. Ryan Giggs has clearly lost, but have the rest of us won? We are now free to read in the papers what we’ve been free to read on Twitter anyway, but the greatest sense of freedom that I’ve felt over the last few hours is that of having been released from a farce. On the Today programme this morning, a kind of surrealist theatre was being played out. I knew what I’d seen on Twitter. I knew what the Scottish Sunday Herald had printed. The Today presenters knew that I knew. Well, not that I knew exactly, but that lots of people like me knew. And yet they had constantly to refer, coyly, to “a footballer”. I was waiting for one of the contributors to slip up, Naughtie-style, and call a Hunt a cunt, as it were, or at least Ryan Giggs an adulterer. They must have been well-schooled, under the watchful eyes of the BBC’s lawyers no doubt, since none of them did.
But no sooner had I felt relief at escaping from this surrealist farce, than I began to feel uneasy about how that release had come about. I have no sense that the masses have won a resounding victory for freedom. I don’t feel that the democratic twitterings of the internet generation have dealt a blow against fuddy-duddy judges who, as Kelvin Mackenzie never tires of reminding us, have had the confounded cheek to reach the age of 70. I take no pleasure in seeing the law fall to the force majeure of several thousand people openly flouting it. One day it may be one of us who needs its protection, after all.
The whole saga is marked out by having just about no redeeming features. At its root is a sordid affair and the breach of innocent people’s trust by an over-paid if undoubtedly skilful footballer. The other layers in the onion are no more appetising. We have tabloid newspapers flagrantly repositioning their grubby money-making from lurid gossip as a whiter-than-white crusade for freedom of expression. An MP who seems more interested in his public profile than in upholding the laws he’s supposed to be a part of enacting, and then claiming that it’s a blow for “the little people”. And in so doing making judges, who gave their considered opinion on both sides of a difficult matter merely hours earlier, look fools by mid-afternoon.
And what of the principles that have been run rough-shod over in this unsavoury broo-ha-ha? Is privacy indivisible? Does everyone have an equal right to it, or is it a matter of horses for courses? Should our laws be determined more by accepting defeat at the hands of Twitter than by what lawmakers have decreed?
Questions are easier to come by than answers. But one thing seems to be emerging, whether we like it or not. Those who live by celebrity – whether the “real” celebrity that comes from sporting or other achievement, or the celebrity that comes from being famous simply for being famous – seem, it has turned out, to have entered into a Faustian pact with the media that now sustains the very celebrity that it delivered to them in the first place. There is something, perhaps, more than a little ludicrous in the image of someone shouting, “Look at me, I’m famous” whilst simultaneously demanding the right to maintain their privacy unalloyed.