A reporter has told how an unnamed court clerk tried to stop him reporting a knife crime trial: wrongly claiming there was a reporting restriction in place, and wrongly saying this meant the reporter could not cover the case at all. A Section 45 order was subsequently imposed to protect the teenage defendant’s identity: the reporter said that when he tried to challenge it, the clerk ignored his request to address the judge. The reporter won the day: the judge lifted the order so the 17-year-old could be named. Read more here (note that the facts in the story have not been verified for this website).
A judge declined to lift a temporary injunction preventing the media from naming two girls who carried out a brutal murder when they were only 13 and 14. Both had now turned 18, the age when teenagers’ right to anonymity would normally end. They were tried in an adult court with no automatic anonymity, but an injunction was put in place to protect them. The Press Association applied to have it lifted, but a judge extended the ban pending psychiatric reports. The court heard one of the girls had tried several times to kill herself. Read more.
Talkradio host James Whale said he was “devastated” that listeners were upset by an interview in which he challenged a sex assault victim for not pressing her case – saying her attacker could strike again. It was seen as victim-blaming. The victim was a contributor who unexpectedly revealed she had been attacked. Ofcom said Whale’s “significant lack of sensitivity” could discourage sex offence victims from talking about their experiences. The complaint was dealt with under the Harm and Offence section of the Ofcom Code. Read more.
A rape victim “went into meltdown” when she heard her identity revealed on the BBC Asian Network, a court heard. The reporter knew she had a right to anonymity but wrongly assumed the name used in court was a pseudonym. The editor who approved the script was tried for breaching her anonymity but cleared by a judge for his “honest mistake”. But the case raises several interesting points for journalism students:
- The editor, not the BBC, was charged
- Pseudonyms are not used in court
- The reporter had never covered a court case – and the editor didn’t know
- The reporter was distressed by the error
- No BBC editor had been charged before
Note also that the case was heard by a judge, sitting in a magistrates’ court.
Had the BBC itself been charged, the outcome might have been different. Or might not.
Read the BBC report here.
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.
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