Monday, 7 February 2011


[trigger warning]

Parliament recently discussed Anna Soubry MP's (Conservative, Broxtowe) Anonymity (arrested persons) Bill, which would have made it a fairly serious offence to report in the press on the arrest of a person who had not yet been charged, except where a court order allowed this.

Various points were raised in the debate, including:

  • the possibility of abuse of this by making it difficult to discover patterns in arrests, or making it difficult to discover that a politically-sensitive arrest had been made;
  • practical difficulties of enforcing this form of reporting when news travels rapidly on the internet, and by gossip within geographic communities, outside of the scope of the press;
  • the risk of legislating in general to cover a problem that affects only a tiny minority of cases;
  • that a token fine is unlikely to dissuade a newspaper, but a custodial sentence for the editor is conversely rather harsh;
  • that it would be difficult to bind foreign media available in the UK, of which there are many.

All relevant points, of course, on both the undesirability and the impracticality of a general ban on this sort of reporting.

Other than the Bill's sponsor, and the Minister (Crispin Blunt MP) responsible for this area of legislation, though, I'm not sure that a single one of the (mostly-male, mostly-coalition) MPs speaking in this debate raised any of those points in any of the previous debates on reporting restrictions in rape cases.

(A pattern mirrored in the internet debate of those proposals, where the usual "free speech"/"freedom of the press" advocates were largely absent from the discussion when it was only about rape cases.)