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Max Mosley and the public interest in exposing hypocrisy

22 February 2011. Published by Keith Mathieson, Partner

In an interesting interview with the Financial Times, the UK's most indomitable privacy claimant, Max Mosley, challenges the notion that there might be a public interest in exposing hypocrisy.

Having permitted Mr Mosley the opportunity to speculate about the sex life of the editor of the Daily Mail ("for Mr Dacre sex must consist of drawing the curtains, turning out the light and assuming the missionary position"), the interviewer asks Mr Mosley whether people in the public eye are role models and therefore have a duty to behave in a certain way.  Mr Mosley replies:

If someone is a role model and they're doing something they shouldn't do, the last thing you want to do is expose that.  You have to ask, does what this person say achieve the objective of persuading people to behave better?  Whether he's actually doing it or not is beside the point as long as it doesn't come out.

When the interviewer suggests that's a bit hypocritical, Mr Mosley says:

In the end people are hypocritical.  What's so wrong with hypocrisy?

The interviewer expresses herself shocked by Mr Mosley's response and most people would probably share her feeling that hypocrisy is not something to be airily dismissed as a peccadillo.  While the reported decisions suggest that judges are inclined to be wary of according role model status to people in the public eye, they are rather less insouciant about lying and hypocrisy.  Perhaps the clearest example of that is in Campbell v MGN where it was generally accepted that there was a public interest in exposing the glaring inconsistency between Ms Campbell's actual drug use and her professed abstinence. Whatever may be the outcome of Mr Mosley's attempt to persuade the European Court of Human Rights that the media has a duty to contact in advance any person whose privacy may be about to be infringed, it is somewhat less likely that the UK courts will share Mr Mosley's tolerance when it comes to cases involving hypocrisy.

The FT interview appears here, but readers should be aware that the FT has metered access to its website.

See further section 3.5 of the Privacy Law Handbook

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