Tuesday, 1 February 2011

'Time to tighten screw on prejudicial reporting'

The Independent in a leader today calls for a crackdown on prejudicial reporting and is sympathetic to the new Bill proposed by Conservative MP Anna Soubry which would make it illegal for the media to name someone arrested or questioned by police until they are charged with a crime.

The Independent says the need for action is highlighted by the treatment by the "populist press" of Chris Jefferies, who was arrested in connection with the murder of his tenant, Joanna Yeates, but released without charge.

The Independent says: "Elements of the press have been sailing close to the wind for several years. But with their character assassination of Mr Jefferies they have tipped over into the ocean of irresponsibility. And now the backlash is coming."

The leader adds: "Some have warned that restrictions could have the unintended consequence of making it more difficult for the public to hold the police to account. It is argued that Ms Soubry's law would make it impossible to report who the police have taken into custody and that naming suspects in the media constitutes a form of protection for those arrested. It is further claimed that naming suspects can have the effect of encouraging witnesses to come forward, thus helping a case to proceed.

"Such defences might have been respectable if newspapers had behaved with more restraint in recent years but, in the present context of a populist press that smears reputations before the facts are known, it sounds like hollow special pleading."

It concludes: "The time has come to tighten the screw on prejudicial reporting in newspapers – whether by applying the existing law more assiduously or introducing a new offence. Anyone who feels that the status quo is acceptable should take a closer look at the scandalous treatment of the unfortunate Mr Jefferies."

  • While the Indy is arguing for tighter restrictions on the press because of the actions of the populist press, the Sun is raging about restrictions imposed by judges in privacy cases (see post below).

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