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Jun 27, 2011

The quiet period

Helen Dunne wonders whether the UK’s superinjunctions could be useful for dealing with obstreperous analysts

Mr Chairman, may I bother you with a small matter that could prove rather embarrassing for the company?

Always happy to help the corporate communications department, you know that. Need some assistance with an errant journalist? Can always pick up the phone to the editor and read the riot act!

Thank you, sir, but it’s nothing like that. Jones in the IR department wants to launch a superinjunction.

What on earth is that? Is it like some sort of rocket?

Not quite, though it’s put a rocket up the UK’s privacy laws. I guess you could describe it, in financial terms, as an injunction squared.

Please don’t tell me we’ve got involved in derivatives again!

No! A normal injunction prevents the media printing allegations about a public figure, perhaps a claim that he or she had an extra-marital affair. A superinjunction prevents them reporting that the injunction even exists.

But if nobody knows they exist, why are we talking about them? Is this conversation really happening, or is it like Moscow Rules in my army days: we never met, we never chatted and we never concluded anything? I used to love those discussions – although I never really knew what was happening.

The problem is that people do know about them. Thousands of people recently tweeted the name of a footballer who had an affair with a former Miss Wales, despite a superinjunction that even prevented her from naming him. And a rogue UK MP used parliamentary privilege to name various people who have taken out superinjunctions, which is how we discovered that Sir Fred Goodwin, the former CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland, was having an affair with a fellow bank employee during the time RBS was bidding for ABN Amro. The superinjunction even stated that Goodwin couldn’t be identified as a banker.

Are you sure it said banker?

Quite sure, sir. Even the whiff of a superinjunction fuels rumors and sparks Twitter aficionados into action. The footballer I alluded to – I don’t want to name him just in case – is threatening to sue everyone who ‘outed’ him on the network. Soon, even gossip over the garden fence will be illegal.

And you say Jones wants one of these super-malarkeys… So what’s the problem? Has he been playing footloose and fancy-free with that new graduate intern?

No, he wants to prevent an analyst from criticizing our share price performance. Jones argues that, once legally gagged, the analyst will be unable to release any research about us, unable to identify the sector we operate within, and unable to issue any buy or sell notices. We’d have a free run.

Wonderful idea! Time to up Jones’ bonus. And while we’re at it, let’s take a new look at board pay. We can do anything we want now...

Helen Dunne is editor of CorpComms in London.

This article appeared in the July print edition of IR magazine.