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Page last updated at 16:21 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 17:21 UK
The Death of Kiss and Tell

Pete Doherty
Pete Doherty describes the paparazzi at Amy Winehouse's home as 'a zoo'

There is a growing debate in Britain over whether the country's privacy law - established in a series of high profile, celebrity court cases - is filtering down from tabloid headlines to infringe upon overall press freedom.

The country's developing privacy law has been shaped in recent years through stories about sex, drugs and juicy celebrity marriage as reported by glossy magazines and a tabloid press eager to sell papers.

Added to the mix are both aggressive lawyers who stand to earn eye-watering legal fees for successfully suing newspapers on behalf of rich clients and the fact that some of the celebrities who claim to be victims of invaded privacy are also the first to line up for glossy magazine shoots in exchange for large sums or free publicity.

In The Death of Kiss and Tell, Panorama looks at how the privacy law is being used to silence the media - not just in the realm of multi-millionaire footballers, models and members of high society but also in everyday life across the country.

Easier than libel

Ian Hislop, the editor of political gossip magazine Private Eye and a regular panelist on the satirical Have I Got News For You, tells reporter Clive Coleman that there is a real reason to be worried about an erosion of press freedom in Britain.

Max Mosley on his right to privacy

"If you're rich and powerful, I mean privacy is the new libel, and much easier," Mr Hislop tells Panorama. "You don't have to prove it isn't true, you just have to prove that it's private by your definition."

The programme hears from a range of celebrities who have found themselves the subject of unwanted press attention, especially that of the paparazzi.

Babyshambles front man Pete Doherty, who was in the media storm on a daily basis for months as he battled drugs and criminal charges while dating supermodel Kate Moss, described the scene outside fellow singer Amy Winehouse's home in recent months.

What a lot of people in my business expect is that they can switch it on and off. Well, you can't do that, no
Barbara Windsor, actress

"It was murder, it was like London Zoo really. There are 30 blokes outside and you can hear them talking 24 hours a day, you can hear their voices. It doesn't make for a comfortable scene, it's really weird, it's a dark, twisted, ugly world."

The issue of press freedom versus right to privacy was most recently highlighted in the case of Formula One boss Max Mosley.

Mr Mosley was exposed by the News of the World as having engaged in a sado-masochistic orgy with five prostitutes with accusations of Nazi overtones to the encounter.

Instead of shying away from the limelight of the embarrassing revelations, he fought back, establishing in court that there was no Nazi element and claiming that his right to privacy had been invaded with no over-reaching public purpose in the publication of those details of his sex life.

"They've destroyed a family, ruined a life and done so simply to sell some of their newspapers. And I think that is utterly wrong," Mr Mosley tells Clive Coleman, adding that he would like some privacy violations to be deemed a criminal offence complete with jail terms and hefty fines.

'Redress imbalance'

Naomi Campbell's successful lawsuit against the newspaper that photographed her attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting set a precedent that some worry places unreasonable limits on the press, while others argue that it in fact rights a longstanding wrong.

Mark Oaten, MP
Mark Oaten says despite his own humiliation, the press was right to tell his story

Ms Campbell's lawyer, Gideon Benaim, said the recent judgments reinstate some fairness to the coverage.

"I think that the press have been getting away with a lot of things for a long time and I think that the privacy laws are now trying to redress the imbalance."

Some celebrities concede that press intrusion is part of the job and it is unreasonable to expect to be able to pick and choose when they want the press to pay attention to them.

"What a lot of people in my business expect is that they can switch it on and off. Well, you can't do that, no," EastEnders star Barbara Windsor tells Panorama.

And another public figure who had his private sex life splashed across the front pages tells Panorama that he supports the newspaper's right to do so.

Mark Oaten, the married MP who was at one time a candidate for the Liberal Democrat leadership, was revealed to have had an affair with a male prostitute.

Corruption exposed

Mr Oaten said despite his personal embarrassment and the pain caused to his family, on balance he believes the press were right to run the story about his private life.

News of the World Mosley front
A court rejected the paper's 'Nazi' theme accusations

"I concluded that actually, however awful it may be, it is better to have a press which can expose MPs' private lives because it means we have a free press…it means we can expose corruption."

Outside the realm of high-profile incidences of press freedom being challenged in the courts with the world watching, Panorama visits Wolverhampton to meet a community group that protested plans to house seriously disturbed young people in a local neighbourhood without any consultation.

The private company that runs these houses for high-risk young people sought an injunction - citing privacy - to prevent the local paper from publishing photographs of the house or even the street names.

The court order was sought despite there never being any plans to identify any of the young people involved.

This is not, the Panorama team discovers, an isolated example of the law being used in court to keep information that arguably has a public interest, out of the media.

The editor of News of the World, Colin Myler, tells Clive Coleman that unreasonable limits placed on the tabloid press in the name of privacy clearly do filter down to every aspect of society.

"We're talking here about a situation that touches every part of our life. The book that you read…publishers, broadsheets, the BBC, broadcasting, radio.

"It is an issue that fundamentally goes to the heart of who we are as a society and where we want to be, the public's right to know."

Panorama: The Death of Kiss and Tell, Monday, 15 June, BBC One at 8.30pm.

Celebrities on privacy and the press
Friday, 12 June 2009, 17:21 GMT |  Entertainment
Ian Hislop on press freedom
Friday, 12 June 2009, 16:46 GMT |  Panorama
Mosley wins court case over orgy
Thursday, 24 July 2008, 17:29 GMT |  UK
Do celeb drug-takers get off too lightly?
Wednesday, 5 March 2008, 14:08 GMT |  Europe
Oaten apologises over sex scandal
Thursday, 2 February 2006, 12:36 GMT |  Politics
Naomi Campbell wins privacy case
Thursday, 6 May 2004, 11:56 GMT |  UK

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