The Society of Editors has called for “urgent” parliamentary action on the “potential threat to press freedom” following the BBC’s decision not to challenge the Sir Cliff Richard privacy case verdict.
The BBC announced today it would not be appealing the High Court decision by Mr Justice Mann, who found the corporation had breached Sir Cliff’s privacy rights when it reported he was under investigation for an alleged historical child sex abuse claim.
The singer, pictured, was never arrested or charged with any offence and the court ruled it was unlawful to have even named him as a suspect.
But the SoE now says MPs must now “urgently consider” the effect the ruling could have on journalists’ ability to reporter people under investigation.
SoE executive director Ian Murray said: “It is unfortunate but, in many ways, understandable that the BBC has decided it will not pursue an appeal in this case, but it is important, if not vital, that the central issue of what is at risk here for the liberties and freedoms in this country is not lost in this decision.
“The decision that it is unlawful for the media – as well as the public of course – to identify someone under investigation by the police is a major change to not only press freedom to report what those in authority are doing, but also to the public’s right to know and open justice here in the UK.
“These are serious issues and should not be decided by the verdict in one celebrity court case, no matter how high profile. Parliament should now urgently consider whether such a step towards individual privacy against the protection of society’s overall liberties is acceptable.
“At risk is whether the balance between such issues which underpin individual rights and freedom of expression in our liberal democracy has now been altered to the detriment of us all.”
Ian added: “The Society recognises that the sympathies of the public may well be strongly with Sir Cliff on this issue and in this particular case, but there are bigger issues at stake that, if unchallenged, will affect the liberties of all citizens.”
The News Media Association has also given its reaction.
In a statement, the NMA said: “This case has raised wide issues around the reporting of the criminal justice process which local and national news media do on behalf of the public.
“Given the broader consequences for press freedom, we are surprised that the BBC has decided not to appeal this decision. The NMA will now seek urgent meetings with the government with the aim of ensuring that freedom of speech is not curtailed as a result of this judgment.
“Public confidence in the criminal justice system is underpinned by transparency at every stage of the process and anything which damages or limits this openness must be resisted.”