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NUJ calls for urgent review of Cliff Richard judgment as BBC drops verdict appeal

Cliff Richard sued over privacy  -  © Zuma Press Inc/Alamy

15 August 2018

The NUJ has called for an urgent review into the judgment on the Cliff Richard/BBC case which could jeopardise journalists’ rights to report criminal investigations and name the person under investigation.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “This judgment poses a significant threat to journalists’ ability to report on criminal trials in future. It is disappointing there will be no formal appeal.

“However, in the light of the legal advice and financial constraints our public service broadcaster is under following the last woeful licence-fee settlement, the BBC’s decision is an understandable one. Yet this is an issue of broader concern to all who care about journalism and the ability of journalists to do their jobs well. The NUJ therefore welcomes the BBC's call for an urgent review and clarification of the law in light of this judgment.” 

In its15 August statement, the BBC said it had apologised to Sir Cliff for the distress it had caused. “There are lessons for the BBC in how we reported this story and we will think very carefully about our approach in the future – both in tone and style,” it said. “We recognise there are things we got wrong – even if all the facts we reported were right.”

It added that, while it had decided not to appeal, which would have meant an expensive legal cul de sac and prolonged Sir Cliff’s distress, it was concerned the judgment created new case law and represented a dramatic shift against press freedom.  The verdict had led to huge uncertainty over what might qualify as being in the public interest.
Its statement echoed the NUJ’s concerns, saying:

“This ruling will limit the long-standing ability of journalists to report on police investigations – many cases of which have resulted in further complainants coming forward. It will make it harder to scrutinise the conduct of the police and it will undermine the principle of the public’s right to know. These concerns have been widely echoed by many other media organisations."

The broadcaster said it would write to the attorney general to ask the government to consider a review of the law and to protect the right to report criminal investigations properly and fairly, and to name the person under investigation.

The BBC had accompanied South Yorkshire police on a raid of the pop singer’s home in Berkshire as part of an investigation into child sexual assault claims. Its news reports included footage of Sir Cliff's home filmed from a helicopter. No charges were ever brought and Sir Cliff sued on the grounds of an invasion of his privacy.

Mr Justice Mann awarded Sir Cliff £190,000 damages and an extra £20,000 in aggravated damages after the BBC submitted its coverage of the raid for an award. The BBC was told to pay 65 per cent of the £190,000 and South Yorkshire Police 35 per cent and the corporation agreed to pay Sir Cliff £850,000 towards his legal costs.

Tags: , bbc, cliff richard, broadcasting, privacy, media freedom, media law, journalists' rights, criminal reporting, attorney general