Freedom to be wrong but not irresponsible

The words of Lord Justice Brooke may be music to the ears of journalists across the land: “In this country we have a free press. Our press is free to get things right and free to get things wrong.”

He was explaining the Court of Appeal’s reasons for throwing out a bid to prevent the Mail on Sunday publishing its investigation into Martha Greene, a friend of Cherie Blair.

It was, he explained, not the function of the court to impose prior restraint on any publication based on a person’s prior reputation. The laws of defamation are perfectly capable of protecting reputations, where necessary, afterwards.

It is an important ruling and further evidence that the Human Rights Act’s provisions for freedom of expression have the upper hand over those on privacy.

But before we celebrate too wildly, let us just remember that it’s not a licence to be irresponsible. We may be free to get things wrong, but we do so at our peril if we are serious about wanting to win back the trust of our readers.

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