BBC must appeal Sir Cliff ruling on behalf of UK media or help bring about new ice age for journalism

The BBC must appeal a High Court ruling effectively granting anonymity to people under police investigation or allow a dangerous new precedent to curtail press freedom and, by extension, the public’s right to know.

In his judgment handed down earlier this month, Mr Justice Mann decreed that in reporting an allegation of historical sex assault made against Sir Cliff Richard the BBC breached the 77-year-old singer’s privacy.

If left to stand this ruling will not simply chill press freedom in the UK but create a new ice age, where massive police raids involving public figures must be conducted under a cloak of secrecy.

Not two weeks since the judgement on 18 July, two newspapers – the Sun and the Mail on Sunday – have had legal letters citing the case in an attempt to gag reports about a union official facing an internal investigation.

The BBC has been denied the right to appeal through the High Court, but now it owes it to the wider news media to pursue the matter with the Court of Appeal and, if necessary, the European Court of Human Rights.

What happened to Sir Cliff cannot have been easy and certainly the BBC’s decision to film a police raid on his Berkshire home on August 2014 using footage from a helicopter, zooming in salaciously, is questionable.

The report was, said the judge, “somewhat sensationalist”, but the substance of what it was based on truthful reporting of the facts at the time.

Sir Cliff was never charged, or even arrested, as a result of the allegation against him and the case was later dropped – facts repeatedly made clear in BBC and other news coverage of the case.

He has been absolved entirely. It was the press too that reported this fact.

The fear is that if this judgment is allowed to stand we will face a future where police are allowed to act largely in secret and where the press are not allowed to report on arrests and a wide range of other activity.

Surely when public bodies are carrying out activities in public, the truth must be an absolute defence.

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6 thoughts on “BBC must appeal Sir Cliff ruling on behalf of UK media or help bring about new ice age for journalism”

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  2. You clearly haven’t read the ruling fully before siding with the BBC. Mr Justice Mann clearly says that his ruling regarding Sir Cliff makes no legal precedent. The reality in this case is that the BBC published a sensationalist report without regard to the facts. The media never have had a carte blanche right to name suspects in criminal investigations and usually act responsibly when doing so – taking into account the circumstances of the case. As former BBC Chairman Lord Grade noted in the Times yesterday:

    ‘There is a case for examining the wider issue of individual privacy versus press freedom. Yet in its disgraceful actions the BBC has forfeited its right to lead it. It has shown arrogant irresponsibility. The corporation loves to sneer at red-top newspapers but shares a “scoop at all costs” mentality.

    ‘We shouldn’t be fooled by the BBC’s leap to the moral high ground of defending the public interest. It is a piece of shameless spin that deflects from its grievous journalistic lapses. In revealing Cliff Richard’s name, the BBC displayed no higher purpose than securing a scoop, whatever the human cost.’

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