David Frost case

Print edition : April 27, 2018

In a case in Britain, one of its most highly respected judges was told off in sharp terms by the famous TV personality and journalist David Frost in a long letter to The Times (London) on July 18, 1968. It bears to be quoted in extenso: “I have just had an opportunity to study Lord Justice Salmon’s comments at the close of the Savundra Appeal. Of course everyone has a right to air their opinions about television, whatever their profession, but facts are a different matter and surely the first thing a judge, of all people, should do is to check his facts.

“Had anyone on The Frost programme had any reason to think a prosecution of Dr Savundra was imminent, we would not have dreamt of interviewing him about F.A.M. There had been no police action in the seven months following the initial newspaper coverage, and there was no official indication that there would be. Nevertheless, we checked privately with the Board of Trade and elsewhere and were informed ‘We have nothing on Dr Savindra. Go ahead’.

“At no point, as far as I am aware, did Lord Justice Salmon attempt to ascertain from anyone connected with the programme these events preceding the interview of 18 months ago. One is reminded of Maitland’s dictum that it is sometimes difficult to remember that events now in the past were once in the future.

“As it is we are left with a situation where, if the judge’s words were to be taken seriously, television programmes unearthing, say, a new Rachman [a racketeer] would have to persuade a newspaper to print the fact before they could contemplate broadcasting it! And indeed even the newspaper would not necessarily be on safe ground.

“We are all concerned about individual rights in Britain today but one of the most precious of the rights that the public has is the simple one of hearing the truth whenever and wherever it is available. Television has shown that it has a real part to play in seeking the truth about matters of public concern, and to remove television from this role seems to be doing both public and individual a positive disservice.

“‘Trial by television’ seems to be becoming more a slogan than an argument but even those who employ the phrase most sternly would agree that it is a rare, if not virtually non-existent, phenomenon. Would it now be unfair to suggest that tirade without trial by judge is becoming a somewhat more prominent feature of our national life?” This was written in relation to a specific, if unjustified, criticism in relation to a specific case. It was not a sweeping lecture avowedly unrelated to any case, as Chief Justice Misra did. Papal infallibility is never claimed by the media. It belongs to some others.

A.G. Noorani

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