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an order from a court that prevents the press from reporting a story and also prevents them from saying that the court order exists
'The superinjunction is a precedent too far. At some point someone with very expensive lawyers convinced a judge to ban the old media from not only reporting the identity of the person who has got the injunction but also the existence of the junction. That's what Andrew Marr used to gag his fellow journalists from reporting an affair he'd had, until he got an attack of guilt and came clean …'Express & Star 12th May 2011
Balancing freedom of speech against the right to individual privacy – it's a very slippery legislative issue, and one that is currently the subject of a hot debate, at the centre of which is a piece of legal jargon which has, to use a rather appropriate turn of phrase, 'come out of the woodwork': the superinjunction.
a superinjunction is the ultimate way to silence the media – not only must they keep quiet, they must also keep quiet about the fact that they have been told to keep quiet
In the UK, a superinjunction is a court order which prevents the press from reporting a particular story and which also, crucially, prevents them from disclosing that the order itself exists. Often referred to as a gagging order, a superinjunction is the ultimate way to silence the media – not only must they keep quiet, they must also keep quiet about the fact that they have been told to keep quiet!
Largely the preserve of celebrities and the very wealthy, the concept of the superinjunction was recently brought into the spotlight by UK journalist and TV presenter Andrew Marr, when he decided to reveal that he'd used one in order to silence the press over his former extramarital affair with a fellow journalist. This incident re-ignited the wider debate about the freedom of the press versus privacy laws, and catapulted the term superinjunction into the public consciousness. In recent weeks the word has subsequently become one of the top Internet search terms in the UK, as stories surrounding the topic have piqued the curiosity of web users.
But what has particularly galvanized the debate surrounding the superinjunction, is the fact that online social media are not currently regulated in the same way as conventional journalists are. This means that whilst journalists must keep mum, there's nothing to stop Internet users from reporting information about alleged superinjunctions. At the centre of this controversy is Twitter, which found itself in a legal battle after a user apparently 'outed' celebrities who had legally prevented news outlets from reporting specific stories. On May 9th 2011, Twitter recorded its busiest ever day of online traffic in the UK, as Britons sought to identify celebrities who had taken out superinjunctions.
The term superinjunction was coined in 2009 by Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian newspaper, after the paper was prohibited from reporting the details of an internal report by Dutch oil trader Trafigura into its alleged dumping of toxic waste.
The productive prefix super- originates from the same term in Latin meaning 'above, beyond'. It conventionally represents the idea of being large in quantity (e.g. superrich, supersize) or superior in quality (e.g.: supercar, Superglue™). However use of the prefix often has an undercurrent of disapproval, smacking of 'excess' or 'inequality', as in for example superpowers, countries who arguably have a disproportionate amount of power relative to others. In the same vein, the superinjunction grants what could be deemed to be 'excessive' or 'unequal' legal privileges.
The term hyper-injunction also exists, and describes a court order that must not be discussed with journalists, members of Parliament, or lawyers.
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This article was first published on 16th May 2011.
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