The Society of Editors has warned that the Cliff Richard ruling has already had a deadening effect on journalists as confusion looms over what media outlets can and cannot now publish in relation to investigations.
The comments from the Society came after the BBC was last week ruled to have acted unlawfully in naming Sir Cliff as the subject of a police investigation into alleged child abuse. Sir Cliff was never arrested or charged as part of the investigation.
Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors, said that following the ruling urgent clarity was needed on the law and that there was an important principle at stake in relation to press freedom.
He said: “Sir Justice Mann said that for anyone that was under an investigation it is now not legal under privacy laws to say that that individual is under investigation. You cannot name them.
“This has already had a deadening effect on the free press in England and Wales. I have spoken with editors and news editors who have said that they are not quite sure what to do now. It is not just naming someone but treading carefully about what the police are doing and whether the police are investigating somebody. If the police are raiding someone’s home for instance and it is reported to us can we now report that this is taking place? Is there a risk that we will actually be infringing someone’s privacy rights? At the very least this law needs to be clarified.”
At a further High Court hearing yesterday, the BBC agreed to pay Sir Cliff £850,000 towards his legal costs and an application by the corporation to appeal against the High Court ruling was rejected. The BBC will now decide whether or not to go directly to the Court of Appeal to seek permission to appeal.
Murray went on to add that the reporting of the investigation into Sir Cliff was in the public interest and that the ruling against the BBC had huge implications for press freedom and was reflective of an ongoing clampdown on the public’s right to know in the name of privacy and creeping secrecy laws.
He added: “We have seen in the last few days and the last week MPs vote that when they are under investigation for misconduct, no individual can be named until formal proceedings have taken place against them. Here we go again – more doors are shutting in the name of privacy. It is always the excuse that ‘we are doing this for the common good’ or ‘we are doing this for your good or for security reasons’ and more and more the doors shut and we end up in a secret society.”
Listen to the full interview here.