If there is a profession I despise more than politicians, it is journalists. More even than ambulance chasing lawyers. Indeed, ambulance chasing lawyers are paragons of virtue when compared with the other two – they, at least, are trying to create some benefit for their clients even if their behaviour is ultimately destructive.
I stopped buying newspapers long before the Internet was even a pipe dream. I realised even at that tender age that these people were subverting the facts to suit their agenda and I objected. I want my facts presented as are, not coloured by the prejudices of the proprietor, editor or writer – I can make up my own mind having read the unbiased facts. That, then, was how I saw it back in 1979. I realise with maturity that there will always be a degree of bias somewhere along the line. I was younger then; forgive me.
Since then, we have had the rise of the Internet with access to all sorts of information – much of it a mixture of truth, half truth, outright lies and pure fantasy. It is up to the reader to wade through the chaotic confusion and filter it accordingly. I’m happy enough to do this as I’m not paying anything for the pleasure. So once again, I find myself reading newspapers – except the Times, these days. As I said, I’m not prepared to pay for half truths lies and churnalism masquerading as fact. When the Times went behind a pay wall, that was the end of that. Some things are worth paying for. The output of journalists is not one of them.
All of this is all very well, but it doesn’t stop there. Indeed, the actual harm caused by these people has a long history. They will actively seek a story by entrapping people. Who hasn’t heard of the News of the World’s Fake Sheikh? Here we have entrapment posing as news and the readers lap it up. Well, they must do or they wouldn’t buy the scurrilous little rag, would they? But if the fake sheikh hadn’t showed up, the criminal act exposed wouldn’t have happened, so there wasn’t a story in the first place, only the one they instigated. And don’t even get me started on their presentation of fake statistics and press releases as if they are facts. Safe drinking limits, anyone?
When Judge Eady presided over the Max Mosley case, he was correct – Mosley’s preference for a little S&M really was none of the newspaper’s or the wider public’s business. Eady has been criticised for bringing in privacy laws by the back door. However, it wasn’t Eady that set about entrapping Mosley and publishing details of his private peccadillos on the Internet, was it? Eady’s reaction was, to me, a reasonable one. If we have privacy laws by the back door, put the blame firmly where it deserves to lie; at the doorsteps of the editors and proprietors of scandal rags who think that everyone is fair game for the sake of copy. It’s not just the rich and famous who are violated in this fashion. Mosley merely had enough moolah to fight back – and good for him.
And here we come to the real damage. Last January in the wake of a Jo Yeate’s murder in Bristol, we had the rags speculating openly about the her landlord following his arrest on suspicion of having carried out the crime. At this point, no charges had been brought, yet that did not stop the speculative and increasingly scandalous reporting – never mind innocent until proven guilty. The press had decided and engaged in trial by media. Had Mr Jeffiies been the killer any subsequent trial would have been jeopardised as a consequence of the prejudicial scandalmongering by the gentlemen of the press keen to get their copy onto the front page, no matter what damage may be caused as a consequence. It could have caused a killer to go free. As it was, an innocent man has had his private life splashed across the headlines and no one gives a toss about the harm caused to him or his reputation. He is small fry. As it is, it looks as if he plans to fight back. Although by suing the police, he is chasing the wrong target. He is, as far as the journos are concerned, yesterday’s news. They have moved on to their next victim.
Talking of yesterday, the jury in the Milly Dowler case had to be dismissed following their verdict but before they could deliberate on a related case. Why is this? Oh, yes, so anxious were they to get copy on the front page the press rushed off to put as much sensitive information into the public domain as they could, thereby prejudicing the other case being dealt with simultaneously. Well done, chaps. Still, I guess you sold some newspapers, so it’s not all bad, eh?
Contempt of court is not new for the fourth estate. They have a history. Governed by the PCC, the most they can generally expect if they are deemed to have got it wrong is a fine worth much less than the copy they sold in the first place. The PCC is a pointless example of self regulation that serves no useful purpose to the victims if irresponsible reporting. Contempt of court actions are another matter. Unfortunately, they have a history of having variable outcomes at best. And if such an action succeeds, then what? Will the editor or proprietor be banged up? Unlikely. The reality is a slapped wrist and don’t do it again – until the next time, when they will do exactly that again. After all, there’s money involved and the first to get the scoop gets to sell the copy. Never mind the victims left scattered in the wake of their destruction. Never mind the cost to the public purse of collapsed trials, never mind that killers could walk free due to a failed justice system undermined by irresponsible reporting.
The fourth estate should be a fine profession. It should be able to hold its head high and hold public figures to account when they lie, scheme, cheat and steal. Instead, it is the fourth estate that lies, schemes and cheats. It is the fourth estate that engages in criminal activity to secure scandal for their front pages. The fourth estate is not in contempt, it is beneath that by a country mile.