Innocent should not be subject to media onslaught

This letter was published in the Financial Times on 24 July 2018

Your editorial about privacy and press freedom (A rush to judgment over privacy will cause harm. July 19) joins the chorus of press hysteria following the judgment in Sir Cliff Richard’s case against the BBC. Sadly, your arguments are just as misguided and illogical as those in other newspapers.

In this debate you have brushed aside the fundamental principle of innocent until proven guilty. In one single paragraph you conflate the public’s legitimate interest in ‘misconduct’ with press ‘stories about alleged wrongdoing’ as though the two are one and the same.

You protest that legislation would unfairly protect the powerful but fail to mention that the press selectively reports about alleged misconduct on the part of celebrities and the powerful. It is press reporting that is selective and biased not any future legislation that would apply to everyone.

You give a perfunctory a nod to the crucial issue that widespread reporting of investigations into alleged misconduct can ruin reputations and careers even if those investigations prove unfounded. But you do not take into account the not uncommon public assumption of some degree of guilt under the principle of there is no smoke without fire when the police drop investigations using the weasel words of ‘insufficient evidence to file charges’.

Neither do you mention that the prospect of widespread reporting might act as a disincentive for the police to initiate investigations which may later have to be dropped.

Freedoms come with responsibilities. Yet the press does not seem to feel any responsibility to protect people’s reputations until sufficient credible evidence has been accumulated. Fig leaf arguments that the press is only reporting the facts of an investigation without attributing guilt won’t cut it. Neither does your attempt to reduce the issue in Sir Cliff’s case merely to one of ‘style’ of reporting.

The only viable solution is a ban on the police revealing details and the press reporting on any investigation at least until charges are filed. Until proven guilty individuals are innocent in law. And innocent people should not be subject to media onslaughts.

Joe Zammit-Lucia
Co-Founder and Trustee
London SW1

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