Max Mosley’s survival is a victory for the right to privacy. The News of the World should be worried
So Max Mosley has survived as few men have done. To be caught by the News of the World with your trousers down in the company of five prostitutes in a sado-masochistic orgy, which is simultaneously made available for the world’s delectation on video, and still live to tell the tale is quite some achievement, especially in the (allegedly) upright world of the Caravan Club of Great Britain and the American Automobile Association. Normally, such exposure leaves the hapless victim hobbled and humiliated. But Mosley is just not that kind of guy.
If you are the son of the fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, then you will have had more than your fair share of denigration and derision. And if you are the product of an extremely rich background, private tutors, public school and Oxford, then the resulting sense of superiority and disdain towards fellow mortals (which Mosley, a man of aristocratic manner and bearing, possesses in bucketfuls) can arm you with a thick skin, a mighty self-righteousness and an unshakeable self-confidence. There is, in fact, much to admire in the way that Mosley has fought his corner.
Far from trying to deny his transgression, he owned up immediately. The revelations were greeted with embarrassment and indignation in the formula one paddock, where moral virtue is in extremely short supply and hypocrisy flows freely. He has been shunned by constructors, manufacturers and promoters alike. Even his long-term collaborator and close friend Bernie Ecclestone – whom Mosley rewarded with an extraordinary and inexplicable sweetheart deal for the rights to formula one a few years ago – turned against him after Mosley claimed that he was seeking to take over formula one.
In response, he went to ground. He refused to resign on the basis that what he had done was a private act and that he had not broken any law. His one denial concerned the highly damaging charge, given his parentage, that the orgy carried Nazi overtones. Meanwhile, he prepared his defences. He has taken legal action against Murdoch in both the British and French courts over his right to privacy. He employed Lord Stevens’ Quest to try and discover who was behind the sting. And he retained the services of the distinguished barrister Anthony Scrivener, who gave his legal opinion about the scandal at the FIA meeting yesterday. One website suggested that Scrivener told delegates that the films of Mosley’s orgy included the News of the World reporter urging the prostitutes to try and get Mosley to make Nazi references.
Against all the odds, and faced with the most powerful of adversaries – the Murdoch press, the German and Japanese car manufacturers, most of the formula one principals, his friend-turned-foe Ecclestone, and oceans of hypocrisy – Mosley has emerged triumphant. Exactly what will happen to the FIA and in formula one remains to be seen. But Mosley is surely right that the conduct of the News of the World represents a gross breach of his privacy. The idea that it is somehow in the public interest that newspapers have the right to invade an individual’s private life in this way and effectively seek to destroy them is unacceptable. There is no public interest whatsoever, but it is certainly in the interests of a tabloid newspaper, giving it the power to break and humiliate individuals by appealing to the public’s worst voyeuristic instincts, all in the cause of sales. What one does in private should remain private, providing it does not contravene the law. I look forward to Mosley’s legal action against the News of the World.