The record man said
‘Don’t let it go to your head, I’m gonna make you a star’
… So mama please don’t worry about me, I’m nearly famous now.
The words above are in the first verse of “I’m Nearly Famous”, the title track of an album released in 1976 by Sir Cliff Richard [Sir Cliff], pictured left rocking Greenwich, UK, in 2017. Six weeks earlier, the South Yorkshire Police [SYP] had admitted that their tip off to the BBC that he was being investigated in respect of allegations of historic sex abuse infringed his privacy (see, eg, Richard v BBC  EWHC 1648 (Ch) (26 May 2017)). On foot of that tip off, the British Broadcasting Corporation [the BBC] gave those allegations and the search of Sir Cliff’s property in Sunningdale, Berkshire prominent and extensive television coverage. Last week, in Richard v BBC  EWHC 1837 (Ch) (18 July 2018) Mann J held that that the BBC’s broadcasts also infringed Sir Cliff’s privacy, and awarded him £210,000 damages. In a previous post, I have considered Mann J’s analysis that Sir Cliff had a reasonable expectation of privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights [the ECHR] in respect of the police investigation. In this post, I will consider whether the BBC nevertheless were entitled under Article 10 ECHR to broadcast the allegations and the search. In a future post, I will consider the quantum of damages awarded.
2. Article 10 ECHR and the BBC’s Freedom of Expression
The concept of media freedom is at the heart of modern democracy (see, eg, András Koltay “The concept of media freedom today: new media, new editors and the traditional approach of the law” (2015) 7(1) Journal of Media Law 36). It is a significant point of difference between Sir Cliff’s case against the SYP and his case against the BBC. Although Mann J held that Sir Cliff’s prima facie reasonable expectation of privacy arose against both the SYP and the BBC, the difference between them arose at the subsequent stage of balancing Sir Cliff’s reasonable expectation of privacy under Article 8 ECHR with the BBC’s freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR. Mann J undertook that balance pursuant to the speech of Lord Steyn in In re S (A Child)  1 AC 593,  UKHL 47 (28 October 2004) , which he interpreted ( EWHC 1837 (Ch) ) in the light of the judgment of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Axel Springer AG v Germany 39954/08, (2012) 55 EHRR 6,  ECHR 227 (7 February 2012)  (see, generally, Rebecca Moosavian “Deconstructing ‘Public Interest’ in the Article 8 vs Article 10 Balancing Exercise” (2014) 6(2) Journal of Media Law 234) He held that factors to be taken into account in balancing Article 8 and Article 10 include (a) the contribution of the publication to a debate of general interest, (b) how well-known is the person concerned and what is the subject of the report, (c) the prior conduct of the person concerned, (d) the method of obtaining the information and its veracity, (e) the content, form and consequences of the publication, and (f) the severity of any sanction imposed.
Applying each criterion in turn, Mann J held (a) knowing that Sir Cliff was under investigation might have been of interest to the gossip-mongers, but it did not contribute materially to the genuine public interest in the existence of police investigations in this area ( EWHC 1837 (Ch) ); (b) “public figures are not fair game for any invasion of privacy” (ibid, ); and (c) Sir Cliff’s public position and stated views do not diminish his right to privacy in respect of allegations of the kind which underpin the BBC’s disclosures (ibid, emphasis in original); (d) the information was accurate (ibid, ) but the BBC’s methods of obtaining it were questionable, though this weighed only very lightly in Sir Cliff’s favour (ibid, , ); and (e) the broadcasts were presented with “a significant degree of breathless sensationalism” which “went in for an invasion of Sir Cliff’s privacy rights in a big way” (ibid, , ). He left the question of the chilling of effect of any sanction to the discussion of quantum, which I will address in a future post. He also had regard to the BBC’s editorial guidelines (as a “relevant privacy code” within the meaning of section 12(4)(b) of the Human Rights Act 1988).
Taking all these factors into account, Mann J came “to the clear conclusion that Sir Cliff’s privacy rights were not outweighed by the BBC’s rights to freedom of expression” (ibid, ). (more…)