The 24-hour shutdown of Gatwick Airport, caused by a drone, became a media law story when a man and woman were wrongly arrested for causing the havoc – and their names were widely published. The Mail on Sunday splash headline read: “Are these the morons who ruined Christmas?”
One commentator quoted by Press Gazette said their case had echoes of the coverage of the arrest of Sir Cliff Richard, for which he was awarded £210,000 damages against the BBC. He was never charged. The case reshaped the landscape regarding privacy and media freedom.
In a Guardian blog, Professor Roy Greenslade said the affair was reminiscent of the case of Christopher Jefferies, the innocent man who suffered character assassination in the media after being briefly detained in connection with a Bristol murder. But he also noted the public interest in disclosure.
The same Press Gazette report quoted Gill Phillips, the Guardian’s director of editorial legal services, warning that privacy claims were now taking the place of defamation cases – with smaller but still punitive costs involved. Privacy cases offered no defence of truth, and ambiguity over the potential defence of public interest.
Couple wrongly arrested over Gatwick drone chaos could have ‘strong’ privacy claim against newspapers in wake of Sir Cliff ruling
Couple in drone incident hit out at media coverage of arrest but press point to police farce
MPs repeat call for ‘Cliff’s Law’ to stop suspects being named before charge after Gatwick drone front pages
The press ruins Christmas for former drone suspects – Roy Greenslade
Child murders Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were tried in an adult court and publicly named by a judge when convicted; but on release, they were given new identities to protect them from attack. When Venables was jailed again in February 2018, The Sun ran a feature on the six criminals in Britain who had closely guarded, lifelong anonymity. Read it here.
A newspaper failed to contact a woman’s ex-partner when she claimed he had harassed her and was subject to a court order, because it was concerned for her safety. IPSO found against the paper on grounds of accuracy, but not for breach of privacy. Note that the main interest here for journalism students in England and Wales is with the Editor’s Code – Northern Ireland has its own laws. Read more
Parents and even editors are afraid to talk about what goes on in the family courts, a freelance journalist declared at a debate on privacy versus accountability in this sensitive area. “A sense of fear pervades the system,” said Louise Tickle. Democracy suffered, the audience was told. Read more from The Transparency Project here.
The police have an extensive set of guidelines on what to release to the media, and when. They’re here
A couple who were filmed from a police helicopter, having sex on their patio, should be regarded as victims of voyeurism and entitled to lifelong anonymity, warned the legal team prosecuting the officer who shot the footage. A local editor declined to publish screen grabs despite “lively debate” among colleagues. Read more
However, the judge in the case said it was for editors to decide whether they were actually victims of a sex offence, given they knew they were being filmed. Those who published would risk prosecution. The couple refused to give evidence, meaning they were not entitled to protection as witnesses in the case. Read more
Victims of sex abuse have anonymity for life, even if the abuse is not proved in court – unless they choose to go public. Very rarely, it does happen, but as The Argus newspaper says, it is delicate to negotiate and care must be taken to protect other people. Read more