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Wednesday 23 November 2011

Leveson Is Served (4)


Today, Kate and Gerry McCann, parents of missing Madeleine, have been attending the Leveson enquiry. And, for those who thought they had seen and heard it all, there were some positively jaw-dropping moments, especially when the conduct of those labouring in the service of Richard “Dirty” Desmond was discussed. Small wonder that the couple sued.

On the general point of the wider press coverage of the case, it was clear that few, if any, of the hacks had bothered to get a decent translation of the Portuguese term “arguido”, and most just used the English term “suspect”. But “arguido” does not mean “suspect”. It means “person of interest”. But Portuguese law is not the same as that in England and Wales, so corners were cut.

And it’s clear that the broadcast media were not the only ones camped out by the Police station in Portimão: Gerry McCann estimated that there were “tens, if not hundreds” of them. The appetite for information was “ferocious”. And the Portuguese press were getting fed news from somewhere, and that somewhere was probably the Police. So maybe not so different to the UK, then.

And here is where the sheer hypocrisy of the Fourth Estate comes in: they probed for weak spots, found where information was coming from, then relayed every scrap they got from the Police, often apparently embellished for dramatic effect. And then when the same Police seemed to be getting nowhere, they turned and dumped on them. Few titles emerged with honour.

But it was the Desmond titles that took the biscuit time and again: the Express was warned that the content of certain articles was libellous. The Daily Star led with “’Maddy sold’ by hard-up McCanns”. The same hacks had also asserted that the couple stored the child’s body in a freezer. At least the articles have now been removed from the paper’s website.

But the real jaw-dropper came when the McCanns complained. The response of the Express was to suggest that they do an interview with OK! Magazine, Des’ cheap and nasty sleb’n’goss weekly. Not surprisingly, they took action instead, and the Desmond press had to shell out around half a million notes, plus costs. Only after this, and a front page apology in both Express and Star, did things improve.

Telling whoppers just to sell a few more papers and without bothering to consider the hurt and damage your hacks were causing? That’ll be another Benchmark of Excellence.

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