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100 years ago: Too much information!

17 March 2023

March 16th, 1923.

[The notorious Ampthill baby case was indeed to prompt a change in the law on reporting divorce proceedings.]

THE deputation which lately urged upon the Lord Chancellor that scandalous cases should be reported with more reticence in the Press would have found further argument to its hand if it had waited a week longer. No decent man or woman wants to see the front page of a newspaper given over to the display of such nauseous stuff as confronted us day after day last week, and a contemporary has very justly observed upon the whole matter that if such reports were offered in a cloth binding as fiction or history the publisher and the bookseller would find themselves prosecuted. It will hardly be contended that it is in the public interest that full reports of such cases should be given, and it would be no sound defence to plead that they are but verbatim reports of what was actually said in Court. Ninety-seven out of ninety-eight Chief Constables who gave evidence before the Royal Commission of 1912 admitted that such reports are demoralizing, and their opinion was supported by almost all the journalists. We are told that we may trust the discretion of the Press; it is in general possible to do so, but in this particular an evil custom has little by little grown up, until it needs the sharp check of the law, which is already adequate if only it were enforced. A simpler remedy would be the passing of an Act forbidding the publication of any but an official report and perhaps also the publication of pictures of parties to such cases, which the Royal Commission recommended to be forbidden. Only in England and the United States is this misuse of the freedom of the Press tolerated.

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