The Society of Editors has expressed its concern over the possible impact on press freedom and public’s right to know after Sir Cliff Richard won his privacy case against the BBC this morning (July 18).
After the court ruled the BBC had acted unlawfully in naming Sir Cliff as the subject of a police investigation into alleged child abuse and awarded him £210,000, the Society says the ruling threatens the ability of the media as a whole to police the police.
“The ruling to make it unlawful that anyone under investigation can be named is a major step and one that has worrying consequences for press freedom and the public’s right to know,” commented the Society’s executive director Ian Murray.
“While the judge, Mr Justice Mann, made it plain that the court felt the BBC’s coverage of the police raid on Sir Cliff’s home was sensational, and the BBC have admitted they have lessons to learn and have apologised to the star for the distress he has been through, to go as far as to make it unlawful that anyone under investigation can be named is extreme.
“Certainly, such a major change in the law should be debated in Parliament and not come into force following one case involving a high-profile celebrity.
“In many situations the publishing of the name of someone under investigation has led to other witnesses and victims coming forward. We should also consider that the reverse is true. It is vital that the actions of the police should be kept under scrutiny in a free society and this change in the law will make that much harder,” added Murray.
The case revolved around the BBC’s coverage of a police raid on the star’s home in 2014. The singer claimed the BBC's reporting of the 2014 raid, which involved the use of a helicopter to film the search, and was part of an investigation into historical child sex allegations, was a "serious invasion" of privacy. He was never arrested or charged. The BBC, meanwhile, said journalists acted in good faith and it is considering an appeal.
Speaking outside the High Court in London, the BBC's director of news and current affairs Fran Unsworth said that the BBC understood the very serious impact that the case had had on him and said: "In retrospect, there are things we would have done differently."
But, she said, the case marked a "significant shift" against press freedom and an "important principle" around the public's right to know was at stake.
In his judgement, Mr Justice Mann said the BBC had infringed Sir Cliff's privacy rights in a "serious" and "sensationalist" way.
He rejected the BBC's case that its reporting, which included footage filmed from a helicopter, was justified under rights of freedom of expression and of the press.
Read the judgment in full here.
Photo: PA Wire