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The BBC said Wednesday it will not appeal a recent court ruling in favor of singer Cliff Richard, who had sued over the U.K. public broadcaster’s coverage of a police raid at his home in 2014.
The BBC had back then reported that the music star was being investigated for claims of child sex assault in the past. Richard, who was never charged or arrested, sued for invasion of privacy for naming him and airing helicopter footage of his apartment, which was searched by police as part of the probe.
The judge in the privacy case in July awarded the music star an initial £210,000 ($274,000 at the time) in damages, saying that possible further damages for the financial impact on Richard, such as canceled book deals or concerts, would still have to be assessed. The BBC said back then that it would look at an appeal and criticized the court decision as a threat to the freedom of press.
On Wednesday the broadcaster said that it would not seek a challenge at Britain’s Court of Appeal after consulting with its legal team, saying that an appeal “would inevitably mean an expensive legal cul de sac and one that would simply prolong [Richard’s] distress.”
It said that the legal advice received was “not promising.” Explained the BBC: “Even though we are advised and believe that the judge erred in law in finding that broadcasters and journalists normally have no right to publish the name of a person who is the subject of a criminal investigation, it will be very difficult to persuade the Court of Appeal to isolate this issue of principle from the judge’s broader findings in this case. The judgment has been written in a way that makes the two indivisible.”
Added the BBC: “At best, an appeal could recognize that the judge made an error of law on the important issue of the media being able to name suspects, but is unlikely to overturn his overall decision given all the other factual findings made against the BBC. This would still leave much uncertainty about what the media can legitimately report. At worst, the Court of Appeal could endorse the findings of the trial judge.”
Instead the BBC said it was asking the U.K. government, specifically the attorney general, “to consider a review of the law in this important area to protect the right to properly and fairly report criminal investigations, and to name the person under investigation.” It concluded: “There is a fundamental principle of press freedom at stake here and one upon which we believe parliament, as our lawmakers, should decide.”
The BBC reiterated that it was “sorry for the distress” it caused Richard. “We fully appreciate the impact this has had on him,” it said. “There are lessons for the BBC in how we reported this story, and we will think very carefully about our approach in the future — both in tone and style. We recognize there are things we got wrong — even if all the facts we reported were right.”
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