Welcome To Zelo Street!

This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Coulson Trial Reporting Fail

Andy Coulson, former editor of the now defunct Screws, has been on trial in Edinburgh on a charge of perjury: this pertained to the evidence he gave at the trial in Glasgow of former MSP Tommy Sheridan back in 2010. This morning, Coulson was cleared of the charge, and although that was that for the criminal trial, the trial of how to report the conclusion accurately had only just begun. Some found this part of the exercise rather difficult.
To summarise (James Doleman’s excellent piece on the trial can be read HERE), a charge of perjury can only be proven if the accused not only lied, but his or her evidence was relevant to the case concerned. What the prosecution in this case failed was to show that Coulson’s evidence at the Sheridan trial was relevant. The defence did not contest the allegation that he lied, or the evidence presented in support of that allegation.
Coulson’s advocate Murdo MacLeod “noted … Mr Sheridan and the Advocate Depute both said in their closing statements at the 2010 trial that the phone hacking testimony had little relevance to Mr Sheridan's defence”, asking “How can the Crown say in 2010 this evidence doesn't matter then turn around in 2015 and say it does? The prosecution is riding two galloping horses and they are both going off in opposite directions”.
The prosecution had not proved the relevance of Coulson’s testimony to the Sheridan trial, and the judge had therefore no alternative but to acquit. This was the starting signal for some of the most basic journalistic failure to be committed to social media since, er, the last lot, which may not have been so long ago. Coulson’s claim outside the court that he did not lie - his team did not make that claim - did not help.
First out of the traps with the misinformation was Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil, who, as a Scot, might have been expected to know better. “PM's former director of communications Andy Coulson cleared of lying in court after a Scottish judge threw out charges of alleged perjury” he declared. The loathsome Toby Young, who could not be expected to know better, went along with this conclusion unquestioningly, Tweeting simply “Hooray”.
It got worse: the Telegraph, yes, the alleged paper of record, did it too: “Andy Coulson, former NOTW editor, acquitted of telling lies about knowledge of phone hacking”. Kay “surly” Burley, of Sky News (“first for breaking wind”) Tweeted in the same vein: “BREAKING: Andy Coulson acquitted of lying under oath in Tommy Sheridan case.  Statement from him soon”. No he wasn’t. But the misinformation kept coming.
The Yorkshire Post Tweeted simply “Coulson cleared of lying as case collapses”. Even Channel 4 News got it wrong: “Andy Coulson cleared of lying as trial collapses”. One can only guess at the spin that will be applied by the time tomorrow’s front pages hit the newsstands. Once again, that lie has gone half way round the world before the truth has got its socks on. And our distinguished media has shown itself to be anything but.

Journalism also includes getting your facts right, folks. Must try harder.


Anonymous said...

Tommy Sheridan was an MSP (1999-2007), but never an MP, I think you'll find.


Arnold said...

Believe it or not, but the Mail got it right.