FREEDOM OF PRESS AND PROTECTION OF PRIVACY
F R Chowdhury 21 July 2018
It was Wednesday 18-July-2018, I was still on my morning breakfast listening to the TV news. The headline news was about a court verdict that gave £210,000.00 damages to Sir Cliff Richard for breach of his privacy by BBC. The story relates to a police search of Sir Richard’s house to look for suspected evidence of child pornography about two years back. The incident was reported by BBC in a manner as if Cliff is already proven guilty. The reporting went far beyond usual reporting of incidents under trial.
As I started with this case, I would also like to discuss specific relevant common practice and procedures followed in the United Kingdom. Matters relating to human rights and dignity are significant. In the UK, the police are cautious as to how they deal with the accused. No one is guilty unless proved so in a court of law. The accused person is just like any other person on the street. The police will behave accordingly. In no way, the accused person’s dignity or privacy will be hampered. The police will not divulge his full identity to the press. Any statement will generally say that about 45 years old man from Romford area has been taken into custody or something like that. More information may be given if the police decide to frame charges and prosecute the person. Police may call a press conference only after the verdict by the court as to how they pursued the case. At all stages, the police will treat the accused with full respect and dignity. Police know their role very well – law enforcement and prevention of crime; protection of public but no unnecessary harassment.
In the United Kingdom, we enjoy complete freedom of expression. Except for the monarch, we can criticise any person or his/ her actions bearing in mind that we avoid any personal attack, avoid telling lies for which we could be sued, avoid any statement that could lead to the creation of rift or division between colour, creed, religion or disturb communal harmony. Those in politics are prepared to face all sorts of criticism. It is very common to see exciting cartoon being published in papers even about the prime minister. Nobody goes to jail for that.
Freedom of the press is paramount in the United Kingdom. Corruptions by politicians or even by civil servants cannot be hidden for long. Investigating journalism finds it all and brings it to the public. There is no place to hide. However, publication of any false report may lead to defamation or compensation by millions.
There is a new law in the UK giving the public a right to know about things of public interest. Government departments and agencies have been told to provide information to the public so long it is not intended to cause any harm to any individual or any company or institute or the society. Matters relating to defence or another state secret may not be divulged. No information may be made public that may affect the business success or balance. When two parties are in legal dispute, any information given to one party should be communicated to the other party as well.
People in the United Kingdom also enjoy privacy. It is protected. There are limits to the public interest. If journalism crosses that line, then they may have pay for it in a substantial way. That is how the balance is maintained. UK judiciary is the ultimate authority to deal with it, and in the case of Sir Cliff Richard, the judge has done it.
In the UK, there is an Ombudsman or what we call a watchdog for all these matters. Any aggrieved person may go to the relevant ombudsman for remedy. Courts shall always remain the final battle-ground. IPCC (Independent Police Complaint Commission) looks into complaints against police. Similar authorities exist for regulating press and information sector. There is also a Commissioner of Information to ensure that public can get to know things of public interest.
The UK model of dealing with all these sensitive matters is unique. The laws are backed up by the appropriately competent administration. All watchdogs/ ombudsman for every sector is free of government influence. They work for ultimate public interest. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have similar procedures in place. They are a pre-requisite for every democratic society. They are essential for establishing the rule of law. Developing countries like Bangladesh can learn a lot from these systems and procedures. In fact, they can seek to cooperate with the UK on these matters.
The Bangladesh system of parading the accused persons in front of media- camera must stop. The Police, RAB (Rapid Action Battalion), and other law enforcement agencies must understand that they are not part of the judiciary. They must stop the media trial of accused persons. The killing of accused in the police custody in the name of gunfight or crossfire is the greatest crime committed by the government. This is barbaric. There is no room for such a thing in civilised society. It must stop.
I am aware that Bangladesh has a lot of barristers and solicitors/ lawyers trained in the UK. They have seen and known what I have been trying to state in this article. I call upon the law society or bar association in Bangladesh to take the initiative to bring democratic reforms. Let us have a civilised and cultured society based on human rights, democratic values, equality, and justice.
London, 19-July-2018 <email@example.com>