Appeasing the Media

Last week the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of Oxford, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, published a Briefing Paper The Media and the Family Courts – key information and questions about the Children, Schools and Families Bill (PDF). It cannot have made good reading for Jack Straw. The paper raises concerns that the proposals to relax the restrictions on media reporting of family court cases, contained in Part 2 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, lack sufficient clarity about what can be reported and could put the privacy of vulnerable children at risk.

The premise of the paper is that:
"these changes are being introduced very rapidly and without proper consultation. There has also been little public debate because the media, usually a source of public discussion, have a clear interest in promoting the changes. As a result, media coverage of this issue has been far from balanced. This Briefing Paper therefore aims to facilitate a more informed debate as the Bill goes through Parliament, by discussing the proposals and comparing the approaches taken in other jurisdictions."

Apart from the worry "that the media were less interested in promoting the interests of children and families than in the salacious presentation of the details of people’s private lives", the Paper discusses three major concerns over the proposals:

1. Why is the Government rushing ahead with these proposals at this time?

2. Why is personal privacy being sacrificed as part of these proposals?

3. What are the resource implications of these proposals?

It is important, says the Paper, that these concerns are considered and given appropriate scrutiny while the Bill is being debated.

The Paper concludes with a number of key questions, including:
  • Why is the Bill so complex?

  • Has there been adequate consultation over the latest proposals?

  • Why is there not clearer guidance about protecting anonymity?

  • Why is personal privacy being put at risk?

  • Will experts stop providing their services to the Family Courts?

  • Does the Bill violate the right to respect for private and family life contained in the Human Rights Act 1998 (Article 8)?
Let us hope that the Paper helps to ensure that these proposals are given the proper consideration that they require.

A media release relating to the Paper can be found here, in PDF format.