One of the modern characteristics of the press, as Nick Davies showed in his go-to book on its workings Flat Earth News, is the herd instinct: once a story is running, nobody wants to be seen to be out of step. All pile in, lifting copy, spreading the initial message, and – worst of all – not stopping to ask whether the story they are running is factually correct, or even whether it is actually news at all.
What's f***ing wrong with telling readers to vote Conservative, c***?!? Er, with the greatest of respect, Mr Jay
This was illustrated superbly by the announcement by the Mail On Sunday yesterday, which I eyed with some scepticism at the time, that the maximum jail term for those convicted of what is known as “trolling” would be increased from six months to two years. And, as Jon Stewart might have observed, two things here. One, this was leaked by Chris Grayling’s mob. And two, it wasn’t news.
That thought was not allowed to enter as first the Sunday Express, and then every other newspaper’s website, churned the story over. Even the broadcasters ran with it. Nobody stopped to think that this might be party propaganda leaked to a paper whose editor-in-chief, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, has clearly taken the decision to support the Tories in the run up to next year’s General Election.
So how was the “two years for trolls” story not news? Well, it had already been announced. Moreover, it had then been included in a Minister’s speech. And, worst of all, it had been flagged up as early as last March. We know this because of a little research undertaken by legal eagles Jack of Kent and Joshua Rozenberg. That would be “research” as in what the press couldn’t be arsed doing.
The information detailing the two year maximum sentence was included in the Criminal Justice And Courts Bill (2013-14 to 2014-15), the contents of which are available HERE. The quadrupled maximum was included in July. That would be THREE MONTHS AGO. Then Lord Faulks included it in a speech to the Criminal Justice Management Conference. That was LAST MONTH.
And, as if that were not bad enough, under the heading “UK moves towards longer jail terms for trolls” by David Meyer, we were told that “An amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill would see online harassment cases moved to a different type of court that can dole out sentences of up to two years”. That information was published LAST MARCH.
All this information was – and still is – readily available. So why did no other media outlet spend a few minutes checking out the story before rushing to churn it over, especially knowing that Dacre had recently lunched at 10 Downing Street and the Mail came out for Tories more or less immediately afterwards?
Yesterday was not the print and broadcast media’s finest day. The worrying thought enters that there will be many more of them in the next six months.