Law, Justice and Journalism

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

What does the public think about privacy injunctions?

In Comment, Journalism, Law, Social research on June 7, 2011 at 9:40 am

By Judith Townend

The public interest is at the heart of the debate around privacy injunctions, but do we know what the UK public thinks?

Unfortunately a new ComRes poll for the Independent doesn’t really tell us. While its themes were interesting – asking participants to consider celebrities’ right to privacy – its structure was problematic.

ComRes interviewed 1,001 adults in Great Britain by telephone between 27 and 29 May 2011 and states: “data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults. Data were also weighted by past vote recall”. The full poll can be downloaded at this link [PDF].

The Inforrm media law blog has analysed its methodology in greater detail here and asks what the outcome might have been had the statements been flipped around:

… “Celebrities and sports stars owe their lifestyle to their public profile so they should not complain about intrusion into their private lives“.   Unsurprisingly, 65% agreed with this … the formulation of the question clearly suggests the answer.  If the statement had been – “Celebrities and sports stars have rights to privacy like everyone else” – then it seems likely a substantial proportion of respondents, perhaps a majority, would have agreed.

The introduction to the issue was alarmingly simplistic too. Each statement was introduced like this: “Thinking about super-injunctions, do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?”

The survey does not appear to have explained its definition of a super injunction, or acknowledged the complexities of this phrase. As I have explained elsewhere, there is a distinction between an anonymous privacy injunction and a secret ‘super’ injunction whose very existence cannot be reported. Lord Neuberger’s recent report made the same distinction.

Inforrm concludes:

The Independent survey appears to have been designed to prove a point.   However, even against the background of the events of the past few weeks, with heavy hints and plentiful references to super-injunctions it is clear that a substantial proportion of the public has not bought into the media account of these issues.

More research is needed. The question is, therefore, how to formulate a survey that breaks free of the media narrative and presents the issues fairly?