Andrew Morton: Britain is pariah of publishing world

Highgate biographer Andrew Morton claims his establishment-rocking book, Diana Her True Story, would not have been published under Britain’s current privacy laws.

The 57-year-old said that two of his recent books – unauthorised biographies of Hollywood actors Angelina Jolie and Tom Cruise – were published in Serbia, Korea and China but not in the UK because of the publishers’ fears of being sued.

Mr Morton, whose book on the Princess of Wales blew the lid off her fairytale marriage to Prince Charles, decries the combination of libel laws which favour individuals over freedom of speech, and the interpretation of EU human rights legislation by British judges which allow super-injunctions for the wealthy elite.

“The existing libel law has effectively killed off biography as a living in Britain,” he said. “Publishers are inhibited because of the dangers of being sued in British courts.

“The way the human rights act has been interpreted in favour of privacy as opposed to freedom of expression means it’s not worth it to publish books about living people in Britain any more – my Diana book would never have been published in the current climate – it’s a minefield that is turning Britain into the publishing pariah of the Western world.”

On behalf of British PEN, a writers’ campaign group, Mr Morton gave evidence last month to a joint Parliamentary Committee which is due to release a draft report into the UK’s privacy and libel laws later this month.

“My view is that freedom of speech in Britain should not be defined by which side of the bed Ryan Giggs gets out of,” said Mr Morton, whose latest book William and Catherine, Their Lives, Their Wedding has been topping the UK hardback charts.

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He warned that focusing the debate on the privacy of “a few celebrities and very rich businessmen” rather than freedom of speech, would gag whistleblowers as well as silencing serious journalistic inquiry.

“Let’s not wait for another Thalidomide scandal to happen before we realise we can’t discuss things openly in Britain. We shouldn’t have to find out things by reading between the lines of Private Eye.”