Let’s ‘print and be damned’ has often been the unsaid mantra used by journalists, newspapers and media outlets for many years, and is ironically said to have arisen from a statement uttered by the Duke of Wellington, when confronted with a letter threatening to reveal salacious details about an affair. The Duke would not give in to blackmail and so suggested that the publisher should print as he wished and therefore reap the consequences.
The consequences can be profound as we have seen from the recent case between Sir Cliff Richard and the BBC, when the High Court judge Mr Justice Mann ruled in favour of the singer and awarded him £210,000 in damages, agreeing that promoting unsubstantiated accusations against Sir Cliff and publishing sensational video footage of the singer’s home being searched when he was never arrested or charged, was a ‘serious invasion of his privacy’. In response, the BBC were considering an appeal, suggesting that not being able to publish the name of a suspect prior to a formal charge was a serious restriction of the ‘freedom of the press’ and would not be in the public interest. This overlooks the terrible hurt personally caused to Sir Cliff and the irreparable damage done to his reputation, coupled with the judge’s own conclusion that ‘no matter of public interest’ was served in this case. Although emotionally unable to comment on the steps of the High Court, Sir Cliff made it clear in his interview with ITV that he had no desire to curtail the ‘freedom of the press’ but to ensure that the privacy of the individual was respected until the point that a formal charge is made. After all, it is a fundamental principle of our society that all people are innocent until proven guilty and as Sir Cliff himself observed ‘freedom without responsibility is anarchy’.
It seems to me that although it’s right to promote openness and transparency, we all need to accept that this doesn’t give us an automatic right to know everything about every individual or institution. The problem is that we are all nosy, and gossip sells newspapers, and we simply can’t bear not knowing and this is where the dilemma lies – we expect to have everything laid out on a plate and become frustrated and disgruntled when it isn’t so. The BBC may have hoped that its reputation for rigorous journalism would be enhanced, but they forgot (or perhaps didn’t care) that it’s prize scoop came at the expenses of trashing the reputation of an innocent person.
Perhaps we should all remember that only God knows everything and that one day our lives will be judged by him as if it were an ‘open book’, but until then we need to live, love and respect each other with as much grace and dignity as we can muster. Doing ‘to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6.31), otherwise we will all have to suffer the consequences.
“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6.8