Freedom Of Expression Vs Right To Respect Of Privacy

How much privacy can sporting stars expect?

Abby Wynne
5 min readJan 9, 2021

There are a number of laws in place to protect journalists, the corporations they work for, and the public. But when it comes to sporting stars, or celebrities more generally, there are blurred lines between these laws.

As a journalist, you should be aware of the possible legal challenges you could face when publishing a news story. In this blog post, I will outline what I believe are the most important ones.

The Independent Press Organisation

The IPSO have an Editors Code of Practice which sets out the rules that newspapers and magazines regulated by IPSO have agreed to follow.

It is the responsibility of editors and publishers to apply the Code to editorial material in both printed and online versions of their publications.

Their privacy guidelines are as follows:

Created on

However, their guidelines become a little hazy when the person being written about, is of interest to people in general.

What is the cause for blurred lines?

Journalists rely on article 10 of The Human Rights Act 1998, which protects their right to hold their own opinions and to express them freely.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.”

On the In Brief website, it states that the media believe that they have the right to freely write about sporting stars “in order to condemn the behaviour and thereby contribute to debate in society and inform the wider public”.

There is a fine line which journalists have to be careful not to cross, or they can be liable to big lawsuits, and some hefty fines.

Article 8 of The Human Rights Act 1998, provides sporting stars with a right to respect for private and family life.

“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”

Therefore, journalists’ right to freedom of speech can be challenged by an individual’s right to privacy.

But, is an invasion of privacy part of the package that sporting stars signed up for when they came into the public eye?

Created in

Former Wales rugby captain, Gareth Thomas

Gareth Thomas was forced to go public about his diagnoses of HIV because of the threat of the tabloids publishing the news. Had it not been for this threat, he would have kept the news private.

He has also condemned a journalist who knocked on his parents’ door and told them before he had the chance to.

Ben Stokes, England Cricket captain

The Sun published a story on a traumatic event which happened in Ben Stokes’ family over 30 years ago. Ben claimed that The Sun used his name as an excuse to “shatter the privacy and private lives” of his parents.

Created in

Read more on the story, here.

Max Mosley, a British former racing driver

Max Mosely successfully sued the News of the World for breach of privacy, after it had published private pictures of him with headlines; “F1 boss has sick Nazi orgy with 5 hookers”.

Read more on the story, here.

“Privacy Is Like Virginity: Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone”

Mark Lewis, a partner at Patron Law who has represented footballers and other celebrities in privacy cases argues that by the time celebrities have to go to court to charge for privacy, the damage is already done. They’ve already been exposed.

I understand what Mark Lewis is saying, but it’s a little pessimistic, don’t you think?

Yes, once a celebrity has to charge for privacy, the damage is done, but that is the same with anything that gets taken to court. By pressing charges, and hopefully winning the case, you get your retribution and can then forgive.

One aspect of their privacy may have been violated, but I am sure there are a lot of other circumstances in their lives that are still private.

Besides, sporting stars cannot expect the same amount of privacy as the general public. As a sporting star, you are in the public eye constantly, and your level of privacy is lessened.

More on media law

Privacy isn’t the only law that journalists should be aware of. There are many other laws in place which protect both journalists, the corporations they work for, and the public.

Three examples of media law:

More information found, here

In order to make a defamation case, the claimant has to show that the material was published; that it identified them (not necessarily by name); it comes across as defamatory; and that it caused or is likely to cause serious harm to reputation.

As a journalist, you do not want to get sued for defamation. The costs involved are extremely high.

Wayne Rooney is an example of a professional footballer who won a defamation case against The Sun and News Of The World. Both papers agreed to pay him £100,000 after wrongfully accusing him of assaulting his fiancée in a nightclub.

More information found, here

Who owns the copyright in journalists’ and photographers’ work?

If the photographer or journalist is an employee, copyright is owned by the employer. Freelance photographers and writers retain copyright in their work unless they license the image or sell the copyright.

In addition, copyright law stays true to social media; you cannot use images from social media sites unless given permission by the owner to do so.

Read more in, “The Media Law and Ethics Pocketbook” by Tim Crook

Any report can be in contempt of court if it creates a; “substantial risk of serious impediment or prejudice to legal proceedings”.

The rule is ‘strict’ because the intention behind it is irrelevant.

What do you think?

Are these laws fair?

Does a sporting stars’ right to privacy outweigh the press’ right to freedom of speech?

In the words of Ben Stokes, is low and despicable behaviour, being disguised as journalism?

Get involved and comment down below!



Abby Wynne

30% perfectly poised, 30% journalism aficionado, 40% stellar writer, 100% modest. Grab a drink and join me exploring all things #sportsjournalism.