Media outlets have not named the male BBC presenter who allegedly spent £35,000 on explicit photographs from a young person, despite widespread speculation about their identity on social media and messaging apps.
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The BBC director general, Tim Davie, told staff “individuals are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy” during investigations, while sources at the broadcaster said there was no plan to name the suspended presenter but accepted there was little they could do if viewers began to notice the presenter’s absence from specific programmes.
There is not believed to be any court order or injunction banning publication of the individual’s name. Instead, the legal risk of linking a prominent person to serious allegations has stopped mainstream news outlets from putting the name in the public domain.
There are two main legal issues for news outlets to weigh up on the story: First, there is the defamation risk of libelling the presenter by reporting false allegations. Any media organisation needs to be confident that they know the identity of the presenter and also that they have the material to back up the allegations that are being made.
At the moment, almost all the known details about the case have come from reports in the Sun newspaper. The tabloid’s reporting is based on anonymous quotes from the mother of the young person involved, making it difficult for other news outlets to independently establish the facts.
Secondly – and perhaps more importantly in this case – is the growing shift towards privacy in the English and Welsh legal system.
In the past, British newspapers were known globally for their wilful disregard for privacy, happily exposing extramarital affairs and gleefully diving into the private lives of celebrities and members of the public if they felt it would sell more copies. This often went too far, such as in the case of the former Bristol schoolteacher Christopher Jeffries, who was wrongly arrested in relation to the murder of his tenant and vilified in the tabloid press before being released without charge.
After a series of rulings over the past decade, judges have made clear they increasingly prioritise the rights of an individual over the media’s right to report intrusive details.
One major change was Cliff Richard’s 2018 legal victory over the BBC. The broadcaster hired a helicopter to provide live coverage of police raiding his home. Richard was never charged with any offences and a judge ruled that the BBC had unfairly invaded his privacy by naming him as an individual who was under investigation by the police.
Hanna Basha, of the law firm Payne Hicks Beach, said judges tried to balance the reputation of the individual and the public’s right to know what was going on: “The law recognises the privacy of suspects in investigations unless there is an overwhelming public interest in naming them.”
The principle, she said, was that people should have the ability to rebuild their lives and move on if the allegations are found to be baseless.
A more substantial ruling came in the case of Bloomberg v ZXC last year, where the supreme court concluded the news service should not have named an American businessman who was under investigation for potential offences. The court concluded that “profound and irremediable” harm can be caused to an individual who is named as the subject of an official investigation, especially if no charges are brought at a later date.
This has real-world effects. In 2020, a Conservative MP was arrested on suspicion of rape but later released without charge, with mainstream media outlets never naming the politician involved. Only last week, the BBC was blocked from airing sexual misconduct allegations against an internationally famous man because he is also under criminal investigation for alleged serious sexual offences.
Basha said a major issue was that news stories lived forever on the internet. In the past, an allegation that came to nothing would be forgotten about as the news agenda moved on and print newspapers were binned. Nowadays, allegations that came to nothing can be found on search engines for the rest of a person’s life, causing ongoing harm to their reputation.
Ironically, she pointed out that the privacy afford to the suspended BBC presenter has caused damage to his colleagues, who have been forced to publicly distance themselves from the claims: “It becomes a process of elimination. I’m not sure that’s helped their other employees who the BBC also owe a duty of care to – that doesn’t seem fair to them or their reputations.”
It is possible that the BBC and police will conclude the presenter has no case to answer and he is never publicly identified.
take from: https://www.theguardian.com/