John McLellan comment: Sir Cliff Richard case has ramifications for wider media sector

John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society. Picture: Contributed
John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society. Picture: Contributed
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The outcome of Sir Cliff Richard’s privacy action against the BBC in the London High Court could have serious implications for all news coverage of criminal investigations, not just those involving celebrities.

The trial has heard from several BBC executives, including the current BBC Scotland head of news Gary Smith, justifying publication of details of the investigation and most news editors would agree there is nothing unusual in reporting that individuals are under investigation as long as the outcome is reported too.

Where this case differs is the lengths to which the BBC went to obtain live footage and whether broadcasting footage from a helicopter fly-over at Sir Cliff’s Berkshire home was an unwarranted breach of his privacy.

At stake is the police technique of using publicity to gather evidence to back up historic sex abuse allegations, but it could also mean the end of “Police, Camera, Action” style fly-in-the-patrol-car documentaries where house raids are involved.

But there could also be an impact on standard on-patrol reporting, which has long been part-and-parcel of police-media relationships, particularly local papers.

Understandably cautious forces could think twice about inviting reporters out on operations just in case a privacy issue arises.

Sir Cliff has already agreed an out-of-court settlement with South Yorkshire Police which led the investigation.

- Many congratulations to the Sunday Post on lifting the Newspaper of the Year prize at the Scottish Press Awards last week for its expose on the deaths of children at the Smyllum House Catholic orphanage.

The Post swept the board for its investigation, with reporter Gordon Blackstock named as Reporter of the Year and overall Journalist of the Year.

The investigation revealed that 402 children died at the Lanarkshire home from 1865 until its closure in 1981 and were buried in a mass grave without their names recorded on a memorial, contrary to claims by the Church that there were 120 deaths.

Edited by Richard Prest, the DC Thomson newspaper has recruited some industry big-hitters in recent months, including former Sunday Mail editor Jim Wilson and ex-Scottish Daily Mail news editor Tim Knowles.

The awards event took place at the Glasgow Doubletree Hotel and was organised by Event Consultant Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Newspaper Society and sponsored by Clydesdale Bank, VisitScotland, Diageo and the Scotch Whisky Association.

- The Advertising Association is developing its “AAccelerate for Growth” programme designed to encourage SMEs to advertise more, on the basis of research which shows that every £1 spent on marketing can produce an £8 uplift for smaller companies compared to a £6 general increase.

Two pilot programmes, one in Scotland and the other in the West Midlands, are to be launched involving firms with a minimum of ten employees and a previous track record of marketing activity. Up to 20 companies will be selected for each programme and each will be given industry funding if they can match the investment.

The Scottish working group meets tomorrow at Wavemaker Global on Queen Street, Edinburgh with the aim of getting the scheme underway by autumn.

- John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a City of Edinburgh Conservative councillor