Newspapers Voice Press Freedom Concerns Following Cliff Richard BBC Ruling

Newspapers have voiced press freedom concerns after Sir Cliff Richard won a privacy claim in the High Court yesterday against the BBC over coverage of the 2014 police raid on his home.

Newspapers have warned that the ruling represents an erosion of press freedom because the award for damages was made on the basis that naming Sir Cliff, who was never arrested or charged, was itself unlawful.

The Sun said: “The privacy ruling in Sir Cliff Richard’s favour is profoundly dangerous and a ­devastating affront to Press freedom. Effectively handing all suspects a new right to anonymity until charged is also far too fundamental a change to be made by one judge at the stroke of a pen.

“Not only must the BBC appeal and win, the Government must legislate so police can name suspects once arrested, with the Press able to report it.

“Secrecy in our justice system and public life is already excessive. Unlike Sir Cliff, many suspects are not innocent. It is not remotely in the public interest to give them anonymity. Nor is it for the Human Rights Act to elevate their privacy over free speech and the people’s right to know.”

In an opinion piece today, the Guardian said: “As news organisations, it is our job to tell people what is going on. That is why journalists from the BBC to the Sun have mounted such an unusual display of unity in their horrified reaction to this ruling.

“The idea that the activities of the police could be placed off limits to reporters is anathema. It means placing them off limits to the public. Reports of arrests can lead to further complainants coming forward. If we aren’t allowed to report on work in progress, it is difficult to see how anybody would find out when the police get things wrong.”

Writing in The Daily Mail, Stephen Glover said: “There are obvious dangers in preventing publication. For one thing, as Theresa May rightly observed yesterday, the mere mention of a suspect’s name sometimes encourages other witnesses to come forward.

“Even more pertinent, to my mind, is the issue of police conduct. I don’t want to live in a country in which it is permissible for the police to raid a person’s house at 4am on suspicion of a crime having been committed and the media are forbidden to report this fact.

“The principle that justice must be open and transparent is precious. And that applies not only to the judicial process, but to those who enforce the law — namely the police.”

In a leader The Times said: “Identifying suspects in the media can be crucial to building a prosecution case as it can prompt other victims to come forward. The broadcaster Stuart Hall, for instance, might never have been brought to justice for multiple counts of sexual assault on underage girls unless he had been identified in the media, prompting ten women to come forward and give evidence. It is also fundamental to a democracy that the press is able to report on the activities of the police, endowed as they are with the coercive power of the state.

“Since the inquiry by Sir Brian Leveson into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, police forces have been increasingly reluctant to confirm details about suspects, even after arrest, and even after those details have been obtained by the media. However atrocious Sir Cliff’s ordeal has been over the past four years, his case in the High Court must not herald a move towards more anonymity and secrecy in the police. The danger is that would only encourage more incompetence, corruption and collapsing cases.”

The Telegraph said: “Mr Justice Mann has effectively declared it unlawful for media organisations to name anyone under investigation by the police, establishing anonymity by case law through the extension of privacy provisions in the European Convention. However, free speech is also enshrined in the convention and is supposed to be given equal status. So why is it invariably trumped by privacy in the courts?

“Meanwhile, on the unregulated internet, false allegations fly around the world trashing reputations. If responsible newspapers and broadcasters are constrained from reporting the facts then only the falsehoods will remain. This is a bad judgment that needs to be overturned.”

The Mirror said: “The judgment against the BBC threatens to impose a blanket ban on naming any suspect in a police investigation. This could make it impossible, for instance, to name a teacher suspected of child abuse charges even though he could possibly pose a risk to other children.

“Moreover, it could seriously disadvantage police investigations as withholding names could prevent other victims of crime or witnesses coming forward.”