Gatwick Drones and Cliff’s Law debate: privacy invasion without public interest justification

Debate on whether a new law should be introduced, dubbed ‘Cliff’s Law’, has recently resurfaced.

This is in part due to the ‘Gatwick Drones’ coverage over the Christmas period, when a couple was, in effect, wrongly accused on the front page of two national newspapers of being involved in criminal activity after they were arrested on suspicion of being responsible for the Gatwick airport drone disruption.

The couple were vilified and ‘revealed’ as the ‘morons who ruined Christmas’, yet they were later released without charge. They were totally innocent.

In July last year, Conservative MP Anna Soubry called for a new law to stop police suspects being named by the media until they have been charged, except in exceptional circumstances. Following Sir Cliff Richard’s successful privacy claim against the BBC, Soubry suggested that the law could be named ‘Cliff’s Law’.

Despite having never been charged, Sir Cliff was named by the BBC, and filming of the police raiding Sir Cliff’s home was broadcasted live. Cliff has described his ordeal in being named in the media without charge as being “hung out like live bait”.

Both Sir Cliff, and the couple arrested in December, were entirely exonerated of any wrongdoing, yet both had their reputations tarnished and privacy violated by media coverage after being identified.

As far as the press is concerned, the fundamental problem is the total absence of regulation across most of the newspaper industry.

Given that the innocent Gatwick couple were smeared nationally and on the front pages, one would expect that a competent regulator would require front page corrections. But these newspapers are members of the self-serving industry body IPSO.

As IPSO lacks both regulatory powers and inclination, the prospects of appropriate remedy are incredibly unlikely, meaning there is no deterrent from newspapers acting in this way time and again.

Several politicians want more protections for subjects before they are charged. ‘Cliff’s Law’ may go some way to achieving this, and Hacked Off have campaigned for further consideration of this matter as part of Leveson Part Two.

But, a competent regulator could resolve this problem without the need for further legislation. This would be done by ensuring that newspapers invading people’s privacy without any public interest justification face appropriate sanction, and that the victims of these intrusions have access to remedy.

On BBC Radio Surrey this morning, Hacked Off Director Kyle Taylor spoke on Cliff’s Law [2:26:44] and how essential an independent press regulator is to ensure the public’s protection. He said:

“If there was proper remedy and a truly independent regulator that you could raise an issue with if you had a problem with the press, then that would help to deter the press from publishing misleading information that gets away from actually the public interest. So regulation has to go hand in hand with Cliff’s Law.”

Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors, was also interviewed on the programme, and claimed that reform would represent a knee-jerk reaction, which could jeopardize democracy.

Kyle Taylor has said in response,

“The Society of Editors suggest any type of responsible journalism standards is a slippery slope to living in a dictatorship. Quite the opposite. When the press spread false and misleading information they undermine the very free speech they portend to believe in. This doesn’t serve the public interest, it erodes it.”

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