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

  1. Agree that BBC did not follow responsible journalism in many respects, but some of the judgment ignores the basic principles of press freedom and the public right to know and over protects celebs and high profile individuals. Do not abandon the DUTY of the press to report on matters of public interest (sex abuse by public figures) and give SOME regard to press freedom – otherwise press freedom will be eroded.

    Also, is it fair to offer damages for breach of reputation in a non-defamation case?

    Some things to think about before we attack the media in general

  2. This is absurd. The press’ reaction to the Judgment is preposterous. Naming people before charge, and certainly before arrest, very rarely happens anyway. The Police’s own guidelines and the Leveson report state that suspects should NOT be named before charge unless under exceptional circumstances. Operation Yewtree became an irresponsible witch-hunt that increasingly sensationalised arrests made on little or no evidence, resulting in vast, vast numbers of false allegations, and very few true ones. This culminated in the abhorrent filming of the raid on Cliff’s home. Cliff was named, because the BBC lied and cheated their way in (read the Judgment) on NO evidence, bar a patently false allegation (again, see the Judgment). He was never arrested, and never charged, yet his reputation was instantly destroyed.

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