The tabloids got what they probably saw as a much needed (and overdue) victory against the celebrity world when Justice Nicol rejected Rio Ferdinand’s privacy case against the Sunday Mirror at the end of last month.
The case concerned whether the Sunday Mirror’s article about Ferdinand breached his right to privacy or whether it was a legitimate exercise of the publisher’s right to freedom of expression. The 2010 article in question related to Ferdinand’s alleged previous affair with Carly Storey – who then sold her story to the newspaper in 2010 after he became England captain. It would seem that the last time Ferdinand and Storey had met was in 2005 although there had been communications by text messages between 2007 and early 2010. Even though the alleged affair had finished before he became captain – it was still decided by Justice Nicol that the article was in the public interest given Ferdinand’s high profile position.
It would seem that crucially Justice Nicol considered that Ferdinand had scored an own goal by giving interviews projecting an image that he was a reformed family man. Justice Nicol held that the image which Ferdinand had portrayed could be regarded by some to be false because of his alleged relationship and subsequent communications with Ms Storey. In particular, Justice Nicol pointed to an interview given by Ferdinand in the News of the World in 2006 as being “significant” in which he posed with his pregnant wife saying that his wild days of the past were behind him.
It seems that a further factor considered important to Justice Nicol was that Ferdinand had at the time of the article recently been appointed as captain of England and this “carried with it an expectation of high standards” and that there were many who would see the football captain of England as a “role model”. It is therefore unclear how this decision might have been different if, for example, Ferdinand had not been made captain and/or if he did not represent his country.
It is a great result for the tabloids because it will make it easier for them to argue that celebrities who pose as family men but play from away home are less likely to be able to protect their right to privacy. The problem for the tabloids, however, is that this decision is likely to widen the divide between the media and celebrities – particularly sportsmen – who may be reluctant in future to give interviews and give the public an insight into their supposed family life.
As for Ferdinand, he probably considers himself a little unlucky given the facts of this case and in light of other recent privacy law decisions. In particular, the ‘public interest’ argument against him seems weak. It is therefore no surprise that Ferdinand is understood to be planning to take his case to the Court of Appeal and, in any event, this case will not be the last on this subject.