Justice, privacy, politics and the future
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APRIL 30, 2008

Justice, privacy, politics and the future

Justice Joel Boyer has ruled that he cannot ban Internet access to the video of Max Mosley's London adventures with prostitutes, simply because the FIA is headquartered in Paris. Boyer ruled that this did not justify French jurisdiction, although he did decide that copies of the News of the World printed in France should be recalled and he will fine anyone who continues to sell the newspaper.

This is largely irrelevant as the News of the World has very limited penetration in the French market, and the newspaper in question is now weeks out of date.

"Sexual practices between consenting adults are among the most intimate aspects of private life with its element of shadow and mystery that no one should be forced to explain to a third party," the judge ruled.

Mosley thus has something to add to his dossier to suggest that he has been wronged by the News of the World, although this is not really of great significance because French privacy laws are so strict that nobody dares to write about the private life of anybody, unless those people want to be written about. A recent example of this related to journalist Laurence Ferrari, who in November last year, was named by Metro as having been involved in an affair with President Nicolas Sarkozy. The story in question was a rehash of a report that had appeared in the Daily Mail in England.

The Tribunal de Grande Instance at Nanterre ruled that such stories were not permissable. They awarded Ferrari $7,800 in damages (she had asked for $40,000), despite the fact that she did not deny the stories published.

Mosley is taking legal action against the News of the World's parent company for breach of privacy rather than libel. This is probably because the FIA President does not want to have all the details of his family background and personal life splashed on front pages across the world.

The Mosley argument is that a libel action will take much longer to come to court.

British privacy laws have been confused in recent years because of European legislation. Courts now have to balance the right to freedom of expression in Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention with the right to respect for a person's private life in Article 8. The problem is that different judges draw the line in different places. As a result the law is based mainly on precedent and in this respect a ruling that was important came in 2001 when the fashion model Naomi Campbell sued the Daily Mail after she was photographed leaving a drug addiction clinic. The newspaper argued that Campbell had previously used the media to publicise that she did not take illegal drugs. The Law Lords eventually voted 3-2 in her favour: two of the judges agreeing that the use of photographs was acceptable as they proved that the story was true; the other three feeling that the photographs were too intrusive. This set a precedent about the use of photographs.

Trying to salvage something from the situation seems to be the motivation for Mosley and his allies (rather than just clinging on to power). A change in the privacy laws might give him some (small) solace, but this may also create problems as the mainstream British newspapers do not want more restrictions. It is also an delicate area with politicians because they do not want rulings that could possibly have implications with regard to security cameras and other surveillance equipment.

In the interim, much activity is going on amongst his supporters to try to make sure that Mosley survives the June 3 vote at the FIA General Assembly. This may be possible despite the widespread revulsion because of the nature of the federation.

Those who are crunching the numbers are now beginning to conclude that the question of Mosley's survival will almost certainly not be decided by the sporting clubs. Since the merger with the AIT, there have been four categories of FIA club: the first are those that deal with touring and motor sport; the second that deal solely with touring issues; the third that deal only with motorsport; and finally the associate members, who do not get a vote.

The clubs that deal with both touring and sport get two votes. These clubs tend to be in smaller countries such as Africa, Asia and South America - where the sport is not greatly developed. They are therefore more vulnerable to manipulation than are the bigger clubs, as the loss or gain of an event can have huge effects on a club. The international reputation and credibility of the federation may not be their primary source of concern.

Some argue that Mosley should be judged on his achievements rather than his unusual sexual tastes. He has achieved a great deal and while the value of these achievements has been undermined by the scandal, they do still exist. However, arguing that this is why he should stay is akin to saying that a discredited ruler should remain in power because he once made the trains run on time.

There is little doubt that if the FIA picks the right leader for the future, the current campaigns for road safety and environmental awareness will continue. It would be hard for them not to as both are central issues in the automotive world. Thus the argument that only Mosley can do this does not really stack up, indeed it works against him because of his lack of personal credibility and the damage that has been done to the reputation of the federation as a result.

The fact that there is a ballot is secret can work both ways, as delegates can basically say what they like to people and then vote the opposite if it suits their purpose. This means that it is impossible to judge in advance what will happen.

Whatever happens Mosley will be trying to do all he can to make sure that his anointed successor Jean Todt gets into office. This is really a separate issue to the vote because it raises the question of the style of the FIA. In motorsport circles one can detect a feeling that the time has come for a new broom within the FIA and perhaps even in F1 as well.

The fear in this case is that the next generation may not be as effective as the current leaders.

Come what may, that is a risk that will have to be faced one day no matter what happens on June 3.

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