What a wonderful spell of weather. Some of my allotment pals are crying out for rain but, having endured weeks of the stuff, my webbed feet are painful and I simply cannot join their entreaties. And it is good to know that when you reach home and tune in to Trent Bridge there is more to see than three blokes gassing away with a background view of the covers. As always this morning we did our work and then gathered for a brew, the difference being that we sat on the benches outside of the giant shed. Inevitably some of the chaps opened up their papers, inevitably some of them were tabloids, comics for grown-ups.
Even the readers of The Sun, Mirror etc amongst us acknowledge that it would not be wise to accept that the stories featured are necessarily accurate. In fact many are pure invention and extremely damaging to innocents. A perfect example was the coverage over Christmas of the murder of Bristol landscape architect Joanna Yeates, whose body was found on Christmas Day. On December 30th Joanna’s landlord, Chris Jefferies, was arrested. He was subsequently released when it became clear that he was totally innocent. But meantime both The Sun and Daily Mirror launched a witchhunt of incredible ferocity. They pronounced Mr Jefferies guilty and peddled a range of accusations that he was a loner, eccentric, a man of strange sexual tastes and humour. None of which was true.
In doing this they committed two offences. Had the man they hounded actually been charged, a trial would have been impossible, and they almost destroyed a good and innocent man. Yesterday both papers were convicted of contempt of court and the three judges sitting at the High Court found that they had “created substantial risks to the course of justice”. The judgement came hours after lawyers announced that Mr Jefferies had accepted a “substantial” payout from eight newspapers who published libellous articles about the former schoolteacher during the 48 hours he was under mistaken arrest.
In addition to the heavy fines imposed, The Sun and Daily Mirror also had to pay out for libel and in this regard they were joined by the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Daily Record, the Daily Express, the Daily Star and the Scotsman.
The contempt charges aginst the Mirror and Sun were brought by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieves, who took the unusual step of leading the prosecution himself. He said that he did so because their coverage was “so exceptionally bad, memorable and adverse”. During a TV interview Mr Grieves said that the papers behaviour was unbelievable. As, of course, were their stories.
Hardly a week passes but one of the tabloids attempts character assassination of someone. We have learned a great deal from the phone hacking scandal and it is clear that whilst the News of the World was uniquely dishonest, the rest of the pack are none too fussy about accuracy. Remember the many invented stories about Nick Clegg at the time of the general election. So nauseated did the public become that a website headed ‘All Nick’s Fault’ drew millions of readers.
Meantime we have heard yet more revelations about the phone hacking by the Murdoch Clan, compounded by the accusation by former senior staff at the NoW that James Murdoch provided false information to the Commons Select Committee. The whole shabby affair has done more to damage the credibility of tabloid newspapers than anything that has ever happened before.
It is not for me to pass judgement on the millions who buy tabloids each day. But I do sometimes wonder if they are necessarily happy at the thought that they are funding spiteful half-truths and campaigns aimed at destroying anyone they choose. Denis Thatcher used to refer to the scrums that regularly gathered in Downing Street as “reptiles”.
On that at least he was surely right!
YOUR WEEKEND GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ; 1. Which nationality was the spy Mata Hari? 2. The Dickens work Edwin Drood is different for what reason? 3. Which Australian soap star had the biggest-selling UK single in 1988? 4. What were the Boston Tea Party protestors against? 5. What is a Wessex Saddleback? 6. Who succeeeded Gerhard Schroeder as German Chancellor? 7. Lyncanthropy involves men changing into what? 8. Which City’s American football team is known as the Vikings? 9. Queen Wilhelmina who died in 1962 was Queen of which country? 10. The pop band America were formed in which country?