This is a dark story about how one very wealthy man is trying to undermine the freedoms enjoyed by the Press. His name is Max Mosley.
Mosley’s notoriety chiefly stems from his role as the instigator of an orgy in his private flat in 2008. Until that moment the multi-millionaire son of fascist Oswald Mosley (with whose far-Right politics he seems once to have sympathised) had taken no interest in Press regulation.
He took great exception to his orgy — in which blood was shed, and violence inflicted — being described as ‘Nazi’ by the now defunct News of the World. Mr Justice Eady found no evidence that it was, and the newspaper was made to pay Mosley £60,000.
Still, there was no doubt a sado-masochistic orgy involving several prostitutes had taken place. A wiser man would have gone away and devoted himself to good works, or at any rate kept his peace. Not Max Mosley.
Max Mosley has taken legal action against a range of newspapers – including the Daily Mail – demanding they delete any references to his German-themed sadomasochistic sex party
Having publicly declared a lifelong devotion to sado-masochism, which he described as ‘perfectly harmless’, he launched a crusade against the Press, or those parts of it he didn’t like.
He took himself to France — not a country famous for the robustness of its media — and persuaded judges to force Google to stop providing links to images of his sado-masochistic private life.
And when, after the Leveson Inquiry, Impress was set up as the state-approved regulator of the Press — though no major newspaper has joined it — Mosley provided the great bulk of its funding. It spends nearly £1 million a year.
But this vengeful, bitter man has not stopped there. His latest threat is so utterly preposterous that readers may think I am pulling their leg. I wish I were.
Mosley wants the Mail and other major newspaper groups never again to refer to his role in the orgy, or ‘party’ as he euphemistically calls it. He also stipulates that 34 articles published by the Mail since 2013 which mention his orgy should be permanently deleted. These include many opinion pieces, one or two of which were written by me.
In other words, an historical fact — the orgy — must be erased from history, if Max Mosley and his lawyers get their way, and we must never allude to it again. This very article, and the views I express in it, will have to be destroyed. I’m not joking.
The orgy, which involved Mr Mosley (pictured) and five prostitutes, was exposed by the News of the World in 2008 and became the subject of one of the biggest privacy trials in history
His reasoning (if that’s not too elevated a word to describe this bully-boy demand) is that the orgy was deemed by the judge to be a private affair. It is therefore not the business of the Press to write about it in any shape or form, even though it was the subject of a widely reported court case
That’s not all. Mosley also objects to this and other newspapers suggesting that the state-approved regulator Impress is funded or bankrolled by him. Articles which have stated that this is the case should be deleted, and the charge never repeated.
And yet, as I’ve said, Mosley provides nearly all the running costs of Impress, which is expected to run short next autumn. It’s true the cash is funnelled through the so-called Independent Press Regulation Trust. But who funds this body? Max Mosley’s family trust. And to whom will they turn when Impress needs re-financing? Max Mosley.
Bizarrely, his assault on newspapers is being mounted under the cloak of the Data Protection Act. This was a well-intended measure designed, in the digital age, to stop banks, insurance companies and other commercial concerns misusing people’s private data. It was never intended to be applied to newspapers. This is a novel and terrifying development.
In a relatively long life as a journalist, I doubt I have come across such a brutish attempt to corral and censor a free Press as Max Mosley’s. What is true, and happened, can’t be written about because it offends a vindictive multi-millionaire.
He’s absolutely wrong, of course, to insist that his orgy is a purely private matter. For whether he likes it or not, as the benefactor of the sole state-approved regulator of the Press, he is an influential public figure.
Pictured: Max Mosley, the son of wartime fascist leader Oswald Mosley, at the Silverstone Grand Prix. He has launched legal action in a bid to censor the press
People have a justifiable interest in knowing about his former extraordinary shenanigans. Some may regard them as irrelevant. Others (I suggest the majority) may think it noteworthy that a man driven by hatred for parts of the Press should be keeping alive the highly controversial state-approved regulator.
Let’s imagine the potential effects of his prohibitions if the seemingly lawful but morally questionable activities of institutions and individuals were censored as Mosley proposes.
Would the media be free to write about the repugnant activities of senior Oxfam employees? Very possibly not. For the miscreants could argue that what they did took place in their free time with consensual prostitutes. Unless the women involved were under age, no law was broken.
And yet most people are rightly shocked that prostitutes were taken advantage of by older and richer men who should have known better. The same might be said of the rich and powerful Max Mosley, whose exploitation of consensual prostitutes will not seem ‘harmless’ to most people.
I wonder whether, under Mosley’s law, the film mogul Harvey Weinstein would argue that the gross sexual advances he is alleged to have made in private are his own affair since (so he claims) he was behaving entirely legally.
The former Formula One boss (pictured with Hugh Grand and Steve Coogan during the Leveson Inquiry) also wants to restrict reporting on the £3.8million his family trust spends bankrolling the controversial Press regulator Impress
Looking back 50 years, it seems likely that the affair of John Profumo, Minister of War, with the prostitute Christine Keeler wouldn’t have come to light in the kind of world promoted by Mosley in which privacy rights trump most other considerations.
Were he to follow Mosley’s example, John Major could demand that his four-year affair with former Tory MP Edwina Currie (which took place before he became prime minister) be deleted from newspaper websites, while history books which referred to it would have to be pulped.
Of course, the affair took place a long time ago. It scarcely matters now. Yet it once threw some light on the most powerful man in the country. The past can’t be undone, nor history re-cast.
Except in Mosley’s sinister world — or, one might add, in former Soviet bloc countries. There, the discreditable records of public figures could be obliterated and reassembled in a more favourable light.
Dodgy politicians, crooked policemen, doctors who have affairs with their patients, dishonest businessman — all of them would breathe a sigh of relief if they believed their private malefactions might never come to light.
I give Max Mosley one thing. He is a formidable adversary of a free Press. Nor is he the only one. Last November, the Lords voted by 211 to 200 to introduce a draconian law that would force newspapers to pay all legal costs if they are sued under data protection legislation, even if they win. Unless, that is, they join the Mosley-funded Impress.
The Tory Government has said it will overturn the Lords’ amendment, and we must hope it has the courage of its convictions.
But no one should underestimate the determination of Mosley and his allies. Even ten years ago, who would have dreamt that there would be a state-approved regulator of the Press, or that its benefactor would insist his deviant practices be written out of history? In the year 2018, in what is supposed to be modern liberal Britain, freedom of expression is under threat as never before.