Legal views, news & support for agents, managers & publicists in protecting reputation.
To experts in the world of privacy rights, Sir Cliff Richard’s victory over the BBC – especially after how the witness testimony in April and May unfolded – was easy to predict.
It is a case which clarifies how the privacy right is engaged in relation to a police investigation and subsequent media reporting. At a broader level, the result is of particular note to high profile individuals (and their agents and managers) because it categorically recognises that an injury to their reputation may be compensated for in the context of a privacy invasion.
In the post match analysis, one might question the sense in the BBC defending the serious allegations against it through to the end of trial, particularly in circumstances where earlier in the proceedings co-defendant South Yorkshire Police had admitted liability for its part in facilitating the BBC’s coverage of the police search of Sir Cliff’s home in August 2014.
Other factors presented significant hurdles for the BBC too. It must have surely understood that the Police would give evidence which would erode the BBC’s rights to freedom of expression and press (and which would ultimately help Sir Cliff in the process). This was in the context of the Police’s argument that the BBC was much more responsible than it was and any damages award should reflect that.
Then there was the dishonest and sensationalist aspects of the BBC’s coverage, starting with its implicit threat to the Police that it would publish news of the investigation ahead of the search if the Police did not disclose information to it. This was followed with the sight and sound of a media helicopter taking a bird’s eye view of events in real time, itself an inescapable emblem of Hollywood sensationalism very rarely seen in this country. In a number of ways, the BBC had uncharacteristically overstepped the mark.
Of further note in the judgment is the substantial size of the damages award (£210,000) for the distress caused to Sir Cliff and the fact that it included £20,000 in aggravated damages due to the BBC submitting its broadcast for a Royal Television Society award in the category of “Scoop of the Year” and then refusing to withdraw it.
In this regard the Judge said: “It is quite understandable that a broadcasting organisation which first infringes privacy in this way, and then promotes its own infringing activity in a way which demonstrates that it is extremely proud of it, should cause additional distress (which it did), both by demonstrating its pride and unrepentance and to a degree repeating the invasion of privacy with a metaphorical fanfare…”
In the Freeths IP & Media team we understand that a legal position doesn't exist in a vacuum. Our wide-ranging technical & practical expertise in protecting reputation enables us to provide high quality, efficient and cost-effective legal solutions for individuals with reputations to protect and the agents and managers who support their careers.
The ruling will have enormous implications for how the British media reports on ongoing police investigations where no charges have been brought, with newspaper editors and media lawyers saying the ruling is tantamount to new legislation. The judge was critical of the BBC and the decision to push out the story without a response from the singer in order to scoop rival outlets, adding that its coverage – which included flying a helicopter over the singer’s Berkshire home – had been “somewhat sensationalist.”