The Leveson inquiry into press standards is already producing some horrendous stories of intrusion, bullying and invented facts on the part of the tabloid newspapers. It would be very convenient to blame it all on the News of the World but it is, even at this early stage, clear that it was far from alone in its unethical conduct. But, as one of my pals on the allotment reminded us this morning, most of us are accomplices, if we didn’t buy the papers they wouldn’t exist.
The likelihood is that in the way that the revelations about the Millie Dowler case tipped the scales in the phone hacking scandal, the testimony of Kate and Gerry McCann will do the same before Leveson. That is a bold claim given the long list of complainants scheduled to appear, but it is hard to imagine anything that will outdo in horror their quiet recitation of the treatnent afforded them in the immediate aftermath of the disappearance of their little girl.
Kate McCann told of feeling “totally violated” when the News of the World published her personal diaries in which she recorded her innermost thoughts about her missing daughter. The paper had obtained the heartpourings via some form of subterfuge involving the Portugese police and, without warning, printed the intimate detail under the heading “Kate’s Dairy; In her Own Words”. Mrs McCann said that she talked about “climbing into a hole and not coming out”. She simply “couldn’t believe the injustice”.
Gerry McCann described the weeks that followed, and what he described as the “open season” on them in every tabloid. We can all remember those revolting days when there were even suggestions that the distraught parents were in some way involved in their child’s disappearance. One invention followed another and, alongside this, reporters and cameramen hounded the couple and their other two small children. On various occasions they banged on the windows of the house and the children were “very scared”.
The couple sued the Daily Express and secured unprecedented front page apologies in 2008 after two of the group’s titles ran stories that alleged that the couple had sold their daughter to pay off debts. Who could disagree with Gerry McCann when he described that as “nothing short of disgusting”, who could fail to share his disgust that despite being forced to pay damages of £550,o00, no one at Express Newspapers lost their job?
To dwell on more detail is too depressing for, the McCanns apart, we can all recall lurid headlines branding people guilty of things they did not do. What is overwhelmingly clear is that the tabloids earn their ‘gutter-press” label. They have become a law unto themselves, a cess-pit of loud-mouthed bullying and total disregard for the truth or the effect of what they do on innocent people. And they constantly defend what they do by citing the public interest when what they really mean is the interest of the public in reading salacious tales.
Who knows what this enquiry will lead to. Credit must go to David Cameron for launching it and for giving it legal status. Yes, we all know that he was under great pressure as a result of his cosy links with Murdoch, but he at least acted and unlike the press, did so in the real public interest. But there is clearly a difficult balance to be sought here.
On the one hand the tabloid press must be formally accountable, voluntary regulation has failed utterly. On the other hand it must not lose its powers to expose scandals that should be exposed. Admittedly most of the exposures of political misdoings, such as the MP’s expenses scandal, have come from the so-called ‘quality papers’. But things like the exposure of cricket corruption were down to the tabloids, and their work in exposing these merit applaud.
The probability is that Lord Justice Leveson will pose serious questions and a balanced proposal for action. Those who despise bullying and blackmail in any form can only wait and hope. Of course the Judge could reasonably pose a serious question for all of us too. If we are so appalled at what these ghastly muck-rakers do, why do we buy their products?
The line between freedom of expression and criminal behaviour has become blurred. Ultimately the verdict rests in the hands of everyone who buys a newspaper!
IT’S THE WEEKEND SO HOW ABOUT SOME SPORTING QUOTES; “Golf balls are attracted to water as unerringly as the eye of a middle-aged man to a female bosum”….Michael Green “I play Cinderella tennis, that is, I don’t quite get to the ball”…….Larry Adler “If you watch a game it’s fun. If you play at it, it’s recreation. If you work at it, it’s golf”…..Bob Hope “The secret of missing a tree is to aim at it”….Michael Green “You can make good money out of golf. Ask any of my ex-wives”….Lee Travino ” I am to cricket what Dame Sybil Thorndike is to ferrous welding”….Frank Muir “The last positive thing England did for cricket was invent it”……Ian Chappell “If you want to know what you’ll look like in ten years time, look in the mirror after you’ve run a half-marathon”…….Jeff Scarf
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE WEEKEND QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!