Where to draw the line?

FIA President Max Mosley was revealed in March as having been involved in a sado-masochistic orgy, with five prostitutes. He has refused to resign his position, arguing that what he does in private is his own business and that the world does not need to know. He believes that the News of the World newspaper infringed on his right to privacy by publishing details of the orgy. Traditionally leading figures caught in sex scandals have resigned to avoid damage to the organisations they represent, but Mosley has argued successfully that the FIA was under attack and that he should stay on to protect the federation. The FIA General Assembly gave him the benefit of the doubt a month ago and voted to allow him to finish his term of office, despite the fact that he has had to rely on his two deputy-presidents to do some of his duties because of the effect the scandal has had on his credibility. The FIA knew that these sort of questions would be discussed in a legal action and so the delegates have only themselves to blame if they find all this unpalatable.

The question being examined in the courts in London is not whether Mosley was defamed by the News of the World but whether he has the right to privacy. His legal counsel James Price QC said that "bottom spanking, whip fantasy and role play scenarios are an interest he accepts he has had since quite a young age". and that "S&M behaviour - spanking of bottoms, whips and roleplays, doctors and nurses, Sheik and harem, guards and prisoners - are permissible and private and even funny". Price also claimed that the New of the World newspaper was "out of touch with the instincts of decent British people". He argued that one's private life should remain private "so long as it does not involve exploiting children or vulnerable people".

Mosley also argued that it was wrong for the newspaper to publish without consulting him, a situation which shocked his wife Jean and his two sons, two sons.

"She never knew of this aspect of my life, so that headline in the newspaper was completely, totally devastating for her and there is nothing that I can say that can ever repair that," he said. "I can think of nothing more undignified or humiliating than that."

Mark Warby QC, counsel for the News of the World, said that the activities that went on "are not deserving of respect, however much they might have been kept behind closed doors" and argued that "whipping or beating someone until he bleeds is a criminal offence".

There are many different attitudes to sado-masochistic activities, although these seem to depend largely on the level of violence involved. For many people "a little slap and tickle" is perfectly acceptable but they fail to understand more violent activities. Sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found in the 1950s that about 50%, of those he interviewed reported at least some erotic response to being bitten, but other surveys have revealed that the number of people who get a kick from S&M are far smaller, with the belief that somewhere between five and 10 percent of the population have experimented to some extent. It is clear that only a few people indulge in activities that result in physical damage, such as bruising or bleeding.

The question of what level of S&M is acceptable as being fun and what is not is at the centre of the case, as this could ultimately be used to decide whether something should be made public or not.

There is still the question of whether Mosley is a public figure. He represents a large number of people through the FIA and some feel that people should be aware that he has indulged for many years in activities which his wife knew nothing about, despite their vows of marriage.

In addition there is the question of whether or not there were Nazi connotations, as the newspaper claimed. Mosley argues that his behaviour is neither depraved nor immoral and claims that there was no Nazi element involved. Most of the activities that were seen in photos and in videos can be dismissed a having no direct link with Nazi symbolism, simply because there were no swastikas, but there are still questions as to why there were German uniforms, a German-speaking dominatrix and why some of the activities which are linked to concentration camp inspections were included in the games.

Mosley said on Monday that he could think of "few things more unerotic than Nazi roleplay" but there are questons which will have to be examined much more closely in a defamation trial, if one ever happens.

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