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Trial by Media

Just for one minute, forget the name McCann and close your eyes and imagine this. There you are being accused of the most horrendous crime imaginable, that being that you harmed and disposed of your child, and the press are attacking you on a daily basis and feeding that media frenzy with lurid headlines and you can’t say anything about it.

Because to say something would mean you could spend the next 2 years in prison for breaking judicial secrecy.  How would you feel?  Just walk a mile in the McCann shoes and imagine yourself in their situation.

At the Leveson Inquiry Kate and Gerry McCann said this (Page 29 and 30 of the Transcript):

MRS McCANN: These were desperate times. You know, we were having to try and find our daughter ourselves. We needed all the help we could get, and we were faced with — I know we’ll come on to headlines, but “Corpse in the car”; I don’t know how many times I read “Body fluids in the car”. And it gets repeated that often, it becomes fact. There were no body fluids. We desperately wanted to shout out “It’s not true, it’s not true”, but when it’s your voice against the powerful media, it just doesn’t have a weight. We were desperately shouting out internally “Please stop, what are you doing? We’re trying to find our daughter and you’re stopping our chances of finding her”.

MR McCANN: The point being, which I alluded to earlier, is that we were told in no uncertain terms that if we disclosed anything publicly which we knew to be in the judicial file, ie the results which had been shown to us, which we knew were not what was being reported about DNA, then we were threatened with a two-year imprisonment for breaking judicial secrecy, so we were being tried by the media and unable to defend ourselves adequately.

Those headlines, that circulated during the summer of 2007, got people thinking that the reports were true and the McCann family were hiding this vast secret and that they could be culpable of doing what the media were suggesting.

I alone was one of those people who believed those headlines.  I believed our papers would never lie to us.  They would never spin such a horrendous story without it having some legitimacy, surely not, that would be inhumane for a reporter or newspaper to destroy a family just to get a scoop, wouldn’t it?

But you see, it was not only the British Press that were ostracising the McCann family, it was the Portuguese press as well.  Which then came the thought surely two nation’s press can’t be wrong and they must be speaking the truth.

How foolish was I?  Very and my foolishness fed the mass hysteria that was being created by both the British and the Portuguese Press.  I blindly, believed that papers would speak the truth, and I believed what I was reading was factual.

In the long-term all I was reading was fiction, because you see when I analysed those press reports and read those files, what the papers were saying was nothing like what was in those files.

If I could stand in front of Lord Leveson and that inquiry now, I would beg that he looks at ways of controlling what the press write and as we are in a digital age, where we can easily read what another Country’s press writes, that something be done internationally about how the press reports stories.

I would tell Lord Leveson, that you can’t repair the damage done to another person, due to press reporting incorrect facts or malicious articles, especially today in the digital age.  What gets written, no matter how incorrect it is, is repeated and copied to every blog, newspaper comment section going.  Forums are created and posts are made with each post being based on the hype coming from the media.

I would tell him, the digital age of social networking and blogging is brilliant, we can keep in touch with close family that live around the world.  We can pay our bills without having to go out in the pouring rain.  We can shop to our hearts content and have it delivered to the door, but we can’t put a halt to something we may have written on some blog or forum based on what the press were trying to make us believe is the truth.

I would speak truthfully by saying if ever there was a trial by media, the first time I really became involved in it and was suckered in by it by media reporting, was the McCann case.

The McCanns silence during the summer of 2007, with the help of the Press and their reporting made me, alone and god knows how many others, think they were being silent due to possible guilt.

Now upon reflection, I can see their silence was not of guilt but out of fear of breaching judicial secrecy, as stated above in the evidence given to Leveson Inquiry.  And now I can see that the media was given free reign to print what they liked, how they liked and when they liked without the parents of a missing child being able to defend themselves.  How wrong is that?  Totally wrong and totally abysmal.

And how when I now read the papers and the media stories, I can see those same things happening time and time again.

It is like history repeating itself, only with different names.

First the McCanns, then Amanda Knox, then Christopher Jefferies, and god knows who else will be next, unless something is done to stop the press creating lynch mobs out of their readers by the press’ failure in reporting things that are not factual and by reporting so many untruths, without verifiable sources.

Even today, on Twitter and Facebook those same headlines are being repeated time and time again and they are being repeated as fact and not the speculative, abhorrent untrue headlines that they should be.

I highlighted one classic example of how the Daily Mail wrote an article which was rather negative towards the McCann family by quoting comments from another story.  When you read the original story you were left with an entirely different impression, as this post clearly shows.

The Daily Mail twisted what John Stalker actually said and made the readers think the McCanns were guilty… when he said no such thing.

Free speech is what democracy is about, we should be able to speak freely, but we still have to do that within the confines of the libel laws.

This is real people’s lives we are dealing with.  This is not some internet media game, where a character is created and you play the game until the last man falls.  This is real people, people with real emotions and people who are already suffering.  Apart from the legal obligation of printing the truth and ensuring their articles are factually correct, the Press should also know that they have a moral obligation to uphold.

To hear Kate and Gerry McCann at that hearing on Wednesday afternoon was painful to listen to, especially if you have been one of those people who have fallen foul of what the press has written by believing the press at one stage and by believing that this couple could have been responsible.

To hear a mother say how she felt violated because her diaries were printed was shameful to hear. And to learn that it was the very Police Force, the Portuguese Police Force, that was tasked with the duty to find her daughter, that caused her so much pain by leaking her diaries was distressing to listen to.

What Kate and Gerry McCann said on Wednesday afternoon was said under oath.  They swore on the bible to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and their account of how the press treated them is both harrowing and beyond belief.

The press and now it seems the Portuguese Police – due to them leaking Kate McCann’s diaries – surely do have a lot to answer for.

I just hope Lord Leveson and his inquiry can bring some good out of so much pain caused to people by irresponsible journalism.

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2 comments on “Trial by Media

  1. A little anecdote that made me feel better about the world. It goes back well over a year or so ago and I can’t remember the details. 

    I happened to find myself in the midst of a bunch of 8-9-year-olds walking home from school. Amazingly, they were dissecting the news about whatever the major issue at the time was about. I can only presume that the news event had been the subject of a class discussion. It was fascinating to hear these tots arguing about the issue from different perspectives. 

    Roll on the day when kids are taught to dissect the press. 

  2. Just listening to Leveson Inquiry and this video sums up the made up headlines that the Daily Star did.

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