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Rooney, Privacy and the Press: a feeding frenzy

Following Sunday’s pair of “exclusives” – discussed in our post here – the tabloid press is engaging in a feeding frenzy of titillation and revelation concerning Wayne Rooney in particular and footballers in general.  The Sun has signed up “hooker number two”, with an appropriate picture of the “tarty twosome who gave Wayne Rooney a threesome”. 

According to the second woman’s “madam”

“It wouldn’t have crossed her mind for a millisecond she might be wrecking the marriage of one of Britain’s most famous couples”.

If the same thought has crossed the mind of our tabloid editors it appears to have been swiftly dismissed.

For good measure, the Sun adds a story about another footballer who “scored with hooker Jen” – a footballer who was single at the time and had not been cultivating any “family image”.  The Mirror has an exclusive story about how Mr Rooney “ tried to bed a BA air stewardess” on his stag night.

This coverage appears, in the words of the US case law, “highly offensive to a reasonable person”.  In English terms it seems to involve a clear misuse of private information.  The absence of any sensible public interest justification for any of this material is obvious.   The “sponsorship” and “image” angle will not do.  The Mirror’s apparently gleeful headline that “Sleazy Rooney facing chop from sponsors” is lacking in any kind of detail – beginning with the revealing words  “Wayne Rooney’s latest sex shame could potentially cost him millions in lost sponsorship deals“. “Could potentially” means, in this context “we are speculating without any evidence”.

In his Press Gazette Editors Blog entitled – without any evidential support – “Wayne Rooney sex stories show privacy pendulum has swung back in favour of press” – Dominic Ponsford says that the Rooneys “derive considerable ‘brand’ benefits from their marriage” so could have faced an argument that they were more concerned about commercial interests than family feelings.  This does not sit well with the extensive press coverage about the potentially fatal damage to the Rooneys’ marriage resulting from the stories.

The Times, behind its paywall, has an interesting piece by Frances Gibb under the headline “Wayne Rooney’s form decreased chance of injunction”.  She suggests

The judge on duty at the weekend may have played a key part in Wayne Rooney’s decision not to seek an injunction to stop newspaper allegations that he had sex with a prostitute.

If the judge had been Mr Justice Eady, lawyers believe that Rooney would have been in with a sporting chance. But it was Mr Justice Tugendhat, who refused an injunction to John Terry this year.

She goes on to quote our blog post on the absence of public interest (for which, many thanks) and, perhaps surprisingly, has a quote from Mark Stephens suggesting that “Rooney might have had a chance” to get an injunction.

The breaches of the PCC Code relating to privacy are patent.  In a recent speech PCC Director of Public Affairs William Gore said this about “Kiss and Tell”

A 2006 piece in the News of the World was subject to censure by the Commission, which said:

“When reporting one party’s account of a relationship, newspapers must also have regard to the other person’s right to respect for their private life.

Some of the detail in the article – particularly the description of sexual activity – was of an intimate nature. The piece revealed matters that would normally be regarded as private. The newspaper would either have needed some public interest for doing so, or been able to show that the complainant had previously been happy to discuss similar matters in such detail. Neither of these possible defences was a feature in this case.”

We await with interest the reaction of the newly pro-active Press Complaints Commission to these infringements of its Code.  This seems to us a golden opportunity for it to demonstrate that it is not just the editors’ poodle but that it can impose proper standards of behaviour and responsibility on the tabloids in a key area.

Finally, we draw attention to the reaction of the French media – which, in the light of the recent stories involving French footballers and prostitute Zahia Dehar appears to be one of relief.  As the Megados website puts it – in an article entitled “Wayne Rooney in the sights of the English tabloids”

“It is not only French footballers who are at the heart of scandals concerning a paying relationship with a prostitute”.

TF1 comments, under the headline “Rooney at the heart of a sex scandal

Rooney is not the first … Footballers are rich, famous … and spied on.  Is this the price of fame?”

It may be that intrusion is the price of fame – but the question which needs to be asked is: should it be?


  1. David Kirke

    Delighted to see you take a forceful approach. Rooney’s wife and family come to mind. Best wishes. David Kirke.

  2. Andrew Scott

    I absolutely agree with your view on absence of any public interest here, but there is arguably a further argument available based upon the prior publicity engaged in by Rooney. This is that he has demonstrated that he – specifically he as a potential claimant – does not consider his sexual liasons to be especially private in nature, or their exposure iable to cause him particular distress (‘get over it love, its no big deal’). Hence, in the ultimate balancing test the relatively weak general interest in freedom of expression (absent any strong public interest component) might still be enough to outweigh the nugatory privacy interest. I’ve more on this on mediapal@lse.

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