Sienna Miller and the press’ obsession with women’s reproductive choices

By Alice Watkins

When Sienna Miller appeared outside the high court last week – after her hacking claim against The Sun was settled – she bravely described the ordeal she had suffered and the damage caused by the newspaper’s discovery of her pregnancy in 2005. 

In a statement read on Ms Miller’s behalf at the High Court, she described how she felt the Sun “brutally took away her choice” when it allegedly leaked that news, without her consent – and before the actor had the opportunity to discuss the pregnancy with close friends and family.

The statement also set out Sienna Miller’s belief that:

  • The Sun was engaged in “prolonged” “substantial” phone hacking, personally targeted at Ms Miller
  • Former editor Rebekah Brooks was responsible for leaking the news that Ms Miller was pregnant, an intrusion which had a profound and damaging effect on her

This year marks ten years since revelations of News UK phone hacking committed against ordinary people came to light.

Prior to that, the company falsely claimed that phone hacking was the work of ‘one rogue reporter’ at the now-defunct newspaper News of the World. Since then, the company has paid millions of pounds to settle hundreds of cases relating to the scandal. 

And News UK’s continued denial of the allegation that phone-hacking occurred at The Sun, while spending ever-larger sums to prevent hacking claims from being tested at trial, means we still don’t know the whole truth. 

Speaking outside the High Court, Sienna Miller described her recollection that her agent received a phone call from The Sun’s then editor, Rebekah Brooks, when she was in the early stages of pregnancy. 

Sienna said, “It is a part of my case that [Brooks] assured those that represent me that she would not print that information,” 

 “And it is part of my case that she, the Sun, did print that information.”

The actor alleges that the newspaper obtained information using the illegal method of blagging.  

Jenny Evans, a researcher on the phone hacking story in the noughties, was a key figure in helping to unearth information about the scandal. 

Speaking to Hacked Off, Jenny said,

Sienna Miller’s case is unsurprising to those of us who have investigated tabloid media practice. I have been told by reporters about cases in which medical records have been stolen from a celebrity and the information used to intimidate them. 

Jenny explained that at that time the use of this technique was widespread. 

The records are obtained by ‘blagging’ – a reporter or PI calling up, say, a doctor’s surgery, pretending to be the celebrity and asking for their medical records to be sent to them.

She added,

This reporter who first told me about blagging described the glee in the newsroom when it became clear that a very famous actress whose medical records they had stolen had had two abortions. Because they now owned her. She was theirs. And they could bribe her – not for money, but for access to her and to gain more stories about her to sell papers. It was protection racketeering, but with stolen secrets.

Countless claims against The Sun have been settled without the newspaper accepting any wrongdoing.

And some of the individuals named in court papers in hacking litigation still work for News UK.

Rebekah Brooks was promoted to Chief Executive and Nick Parker, who was alleged to have worked on the story about Miller’s pregnancy, still works for The Sun as a Foreign Correspondent.

An obsession with women’s reproductive choices

Editorial integrity at The Sun newspaper is summed up by the fact that if you search the newspaper’s website for stories about Sienna Miller you don’t find a record of this extraordinary case, but you do find a picture of Ms Miller in underwear (for a film, in her job as an actress).

Misogynistic portrayals of female celebrities and other women in public life still exist today. 

Consider the reporting on the Royal pregnancies. Coverage of Catherine Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan Markle objectified both women. 

Earlier this year, Britney Spears’ conservatorship battle played out under the glare of the media, alongside speculative reports about whether she has plans to have more children.

There are obvious reasons why a woman might want to keep a pregnancy a secret – apart from the fact that it needn’t be anyone else’s business – such as medical complications that might lead to miscarriage or termination. 

The press’ obsession with outing celebrity pregnancies has never gone away. 

Just one week on from Sienna Miller’s settlement, The Sun published a speculative and intrusive story about Frankie Bridge

To some publishers like The Sun, women’s bodies are public property.

Changing the culture of newsrooms and raising editorial integrity starts with greater accountability.  Until The Sun and other newspapers recognise this, press misogyny will persist.

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