GP Taylor: If you live by Twittering about yourself, don’t threaten our free speech when it turns bad

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IT was a frosty Monday morning when the email arrived. It carried the heading of a well-known Sunday paper. It stated in black type the name of the journalist, his number and a demand that I ring him immediately. The words were cold and chilling. I shuddered as I read them.

Picking up the phone, I dialled and cleared the lump from my throat as I waited for him to answer. His voice was chatty; he thanked me for calling back so soon.

“Must be a guilty conscience,” he added before he struck. “Reverend, we hear that you are having an affair with your churchwarden.”

I started to laugh. My churchwarden was a lovely woman with a big heart and was kindness personified, but she was also in her 70s, happily married and not the kind of person to have a fling with the vicar.

The journalist was taken aback by what I told him. I was honest and open and gave him all the details to check my story.

“Cloughton? You’re the Vicar of Cloughton?” he asked. “What’s your email address?”

There was the problem. He had emailed the wrong vicar. One letter difference between me and the man he wanted.

Out of a morbid curiosity, I bought the Sunday paper and there in the middle pages was the naughty vicar. Similar name, but many miles apart.

It has to be said that the media love a story about the failure of human morality. In our celebrity culture, many of those who are in the spotlight come within a hairsbreadth of selling their soul to the devil for a couple of inches in a national paper.

We, as a people, seem to love it. It is garden fence conversation. A thing we have lost in our modern society – well, until the invention of Twitter.

This has become the place for the street corner conversation, where chat and gossip intermingle. In fact, scientists believe that gossip is a vital part of our life. It is said to be the human equivalent of picking fleas from each other.

The trouble is that it is also a good way of selling papers and attracting viewers. The private lives of the rich and famous fill the pages and even have whole programmes devoted to them.

Such is their popularity that one banal fly-on-the-wall programme about some vacuous residents of Essex won a BAFTA ahead of Downton Abbey.

What really sticks in my throat is the double standards that a lot of these celebrities adhere to.

On the one hand, they want to sell their perfect marriage to Hello magazine, but don’t want to have details of a sordid affair published or even spoken about anywhere in the universe.

Some of them masquerade as having perfect families while committing adultery, and visiting prostitutes, on the side.

Could it be possible that they somehow believe that because they adorn the front page of a newspaper that they can, in some warped way, live to a different moral code?

They court the Press, allow them access and then when they perceive that something will harm their reputation financially, they try at all costs to stop it.

They use Twitter to promote themselves with minute-by-minute accounts of their futile lives. Yet, when it turns against them, they want it stopped.

Injunctions – super injunctions – mega super injunctions are quickly put in place by high-powered highly- paid lawyers. The press is gagged, reputations are saved and hopefully the allegations go away. Footballers, actors, comedians, TV presenters then go on with theirlives knowing they have got away with it. The stupid Human Rights Act gave judges the right to be even more powerful than Parliament.

This week, 80,000 people, four brave celebrities and one courageous MP said that kind of law was wrong.

Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming used Parliamentary privilege to name the once-mysterious footballer, saying thousands of people had already outed Manchester United midfield Ryan Giggs on Twitter.

Sadly, Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP said: “It is our duty as parliamentarians to uphold the rule of law.”

It is now being mooted that the ancient right of Parliamentary privilege to speak out is also gagged.

What is blatantly obvious to anyone living north of Lincoln is that this part of the law is wrong. It gives the right to the rich and famous to protect them and their reputations from the delving investigations of the media into the sordid areas of their lives. It sets the judges above Parliament and stops freedom of speech.

Whatever the judges may say to the contrary, it is easy to see that they are trying to modify an MP’s right of absolute privilege in the House of Commons. It is as if there is an attack from the judiciary demanding a need to reduce the right to speak freely.

After all, we fought a civil war to stop a King gagging Parliament. What came from that was The Bill of Rights, which said: “The freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.”

This is a very important time for British democracy. It is not about which celebrity is so full of their own expanded ego that they think they can sleep with who they want and get away with it. It is about our freedom of speech.

Celebrities will have to learn that they cannot sustain a lifestyle, which is a lie in the hope of protection from judges and a law that is morally wrong. After all, if they behaved decently, admitted their offences and got on with their lives, there would not be such a fuss.

The problem is that many of these celebrities begin to believe what their publicity machines are saying about them. What they have to realise quickly is that the social networks cannot be stopped.

This week, it was a footballer exposed; next week, it will be an actor. This will not go away until injunctions and the power of the judiciary are a thing of the past and celebrities realise they are not beyond the law. They should also know that he who lives by Twitter dies by it…

GP Taylor, from Scarborough, is a best selling author and broadcaster. You can follow him on Twitter @GPTAYLORAUTHOR

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