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How a publicist heads off damaging claims against celebrities

By Peter Wilkinson, CNN
Max Clifford: "A big part of my business for many years has been protecting rich, famous clients."
Max Clifford: "A big part of my business for many years has been protecting rich, famous clients."
  • Controversy about gagging orders taken out by celebrities has convulsed Britain
  • Max Clifford says he rarely uses court orders to keep allegations out of newspapers
  • Most of time, Clifford says he uses PR skills to keep claims out of papers

London (CNN) -- The controversy about gagging orders taken out by the rich and famous has convulsed Britain in recent weeks. Here veteran publicist Max Clifford explains how he keeps damaging allegations against his clients out of newspapers.

Q) If someone comes to you fearing that a newspaper is about to expose them, would you ever advise them to get a super-injunction?

A) Yes. I have done. Do I think super-injunctions are right? No way. But the reality of it is, I think people are entitled to privacy. There's degrees and there's got to be a halfway house between freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and the right to a person's private life and privacy. But a big part of my business for many years has been protecting rich, famous clients ... whether they're stars or the chairmen of companies or organizations. In that time I've worked very long and very hard trying to keep things out. The biggest form of protection is anticipation. You know where there's a problem, you make sure that know no one else knows where the problem is.

Or if someone's got wind of it you do your very best to discredit the source or to do a deal with an editor to say, 'OK fine but what about if I've got this.' Some times it works but I've probably got a bigger chance than anyone else because the stuff I'm in the middle of all the time. So suddenly now on a Saturday afternoon, when I'm about to play tennis, and I get a call to say the News of the World and the Sunday Mirror are about to do ... I phone a lawyer ... off to tennis and by the time I come back it's done. Easy! But it's not right.

Q) So you sympathize with individuals ...

How to handle UK super-injunctions

Every situation is different. If (model) Katie Price came to me on a Saturday afternoon saying they're going to say some terrible things about me and my boyfriend, I say I'm not interested because you've done everything you can to show up every aspect of your personal life for your own ends. So I'm far more sympathetic to a guy who has kept his private life very private and has never used that family for his career or commercial gains than I would have been to her.

Q) Do you think it's good for democracy?

A) I think in a healthy democracy laws are passed by parliament not by judges. And in a healthy democracy freedom of speech is very important but so is the right for privacy. So I think it's a very difficult equation and a difficult situation. But like most of these things the best you can get is somewhere in the middle. The most important word is 'justification:' you're going to come out with a story about the private life of the rich and famous, can it be justified, not on the grounds of titivation or circulation but because the public should know? That's the key to the whole thing: difficult to achieve and complex, but that's the key, justification.

Q) Is it true that newspapers are leaking stories onto social media?

A) Course they have. Do I know it? No. Do I believe it? Yes. Because they're desperate to get super-injunctions overturned: the big exclusives are the life-blood of Fleet Street. Of course they're not happy about super-injunctions and I totally understand why. That's why Andrew Marr was in an impossible position -- because he's one of them.

Q) How will the issue of stories being leaked on social media to get round super-injunctions end up?

A) In the High Court this afternoon a super-injunction was imposed on social media -- it's the judges flexing their muscles. It'll be interesting to see how strong they are with regard to Facebook and Twitter. Interesting times.

There are very people out there, let's be honest, that haven't done things in their private lives that they don't want people reading about.
--Max Clifford

The main thing is that if you're a star and you've been put on Twitter or Facebook, it doesn't have nearly the same damage because it doesn't have the same credibility because there's too many things on there that are total rubbish.

Q) Are celebrities worried if things get on social media?

A) Some more than others ... some enjoy it. I went on Facebook and found that seven people saying they were Max Clifford. I don't use any of these things. So if there are seven people pretending to be Max Clifford, having contact with people, you can't take these things too seriously.

Q) Do some celebrities take allegations more seriously than others?

A) Some are distraught, others say 'so what.' But most stars don't want their private lives exposed. And there are very people out there, let's be honest, that haven't done things in their private lives that they don't want people reading about.

Q) So if an individual comes to you and says a newspaper is threatening to expose them, what do you do?

A) Well if I don't like them I say good luck. It depends on how I see them and their situation. I've helped expose politicians. But there's 10 who I knew were having affairs that I've protected because they weren't selling themselves as a family man or a family woman. They weren't talking about family values and being hypocritical.

Q) If you are going to help them, would a court order be a last step?

A) Not these days no, because I've not got much time, and it's so easy. Does that make it right? No. You stand up for what you believe in. If I hear the situation, meet the person and decide that I think what is right is to do what I can to help them. If I don't I won't.

Q) What's the split about going to court, and working your contacts to keep it out of the papers?

A) It's only in recent years that I've gone to the courts. But in 40 years it's been 95% trying to stop it, control it my own way. I know the problem and I can keep that problem hidden.

Q) How much does a super-injunction cost?

A) About £50,000 depending on the barrister.

Q) Do you think the controversy of super-injunctions will increase the likelihood of a privacy law?

A) I do think super-injunctions will be stopped by parliament because parliamentarians want to be liked and supported by Fleet Street, and Fleet Street are spitting bullets about them. So the likes of David Cameron want to get that media support. I hope and believe that parliament will address it and stop it.

Q) What will you do then?

A) I'll go back to what I've been doing very successfully for the last 40 years thank you very much. I don't use them much anyway. There's been about two or three super-injunctions that I've been involved with in the last two years, and prior to that there's been the odd court situation, but 90% of me stopping things has been using PR: contacts, skills, experience to stop them.

Q) So if a celebrity sees something on Twitter breaking a super-injunction, do they laugh it off?

A) Well I don't tend to get involved with celebrities because they can't afford me. Stars that I deal with, generally speaking that would be the advice because it's on Twitter, it's not nice, but it doesn't have anything like the same credibility of being on the front page of a newspaper.