Privacy ruling will prevent journalists from “putting the conduct of companies and individuals under scrutiny”

  • 17 Feb 2022

The Supreme Court has ruled people have the right not be identified by the media until criminal charges are brought. 

The NUJ has voiced its “considerable disquiet” over a Supreme Court ruling on a privacy case which will make it more difficult for the media to publish information about people in criminal investigations.

Bloomberg News lost its case over a story from 2016 when it named an American businessman who was facing a criminal inquiry into bribery and corruption. The news organisation had obtained the information in a confidential letter.

The businessman, known as ZXC during the court proceedings, sued Bloomberg. On Wednesday 16 February the judges ruled that people have the right not be identified by the media until criminal charges are brought. 

Professor Chris Frost, chair of the National Union of Journalists’ Ethics Council, said:

“While the presumption of innocence in cases such as these differ from criminal cases, it is the start of a slippery slope that could lead to criminal suspects seeking anonymity before charge. The public has a right to know who has been arrested in their name, and those arrested should gain protection from secret arrest. Regrettable moves to silence the press over those who have been arrested for criminal offences but not yet charged have been building over the past few years. The NUJ views this court decision with considerable disquiet.” 

The judges said that information relating to a criminal investigation “may be characterised as private because it is reputationally damaging provided it attains a certain level of seriousness and consequentially impacts on the personal enjoyment of the right to respect for private life” and “the private nature of that information is not affected by the specifics of the activities being investigated”.

A Bloomberg News spokesperson said:

“We are disappointed by the court’s decision, which we believe prevents journalists from doing one of the most essential aspects of their job: putting the conduct of companies and individuals under appropriate scrutiny and protecting the public from possible misconduct.”

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