I wrote this last year in December so it’s not exactly contemporaneous but it’s still valid. It didn’t get published for some reason, an accidental omission on my part, but what I say in it still stands so I’m publishing it now.
There was a time when some newspapers could be trusted to report the new more or less accurately. Admittedly that was a while ago and they have always displayed a political bias that coloured some if not all of the stories they printed but it was an honest bias that you could account for when you read them.
Now newspapers have to compete with the newer media that began with radio and have evolved through TV and into the digital age. This has changed them and all other types of media. The increase in completion does at best create diversity, but for the most part it can simply mean that editors and journalists simply look for the most sensational angle on a story.
The worst examples of this are stories involving sex and sexuality. Sex sells and accuracy of reporting seems to be secondary to gaining readers if a little hyperbole can make a bit of gossip into a juicy story. The slightest whiff that a public figure has been indiscrete or heaven forbid displayed a non-hetero sexuality can lead to huge indignant headlines that are bound to draw in the readers.
After that things snowball and old acquaintances suddenly pop out of the woodwork to spill the beans on teenage fumblings, drunken ramblings in the university bar or flirting with a colleague at a Christmas party.
This is why for the most part I’m pleasantly surprised that reporting of the arrests around the Saville case has been relatively responsible; Though much of this restraint has no doubt been driven by the fact that the Levison Report has just been published and any sort of journalistic hysteria over the case would have had the same effect as putting your genitals in a sleeping tiger’s mouth then flicking its nose.
What Levison doesn’t tackle is social media. Indeed it’s difficult to imagine what can control the amount of reporting that goes on over social media. The revolution around Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the other channels out there that allow us all to be reporters and photojournalists simply by carrying a mobile phone has swept the world forward at such a speed I can’t ever see the lawmakers keeping up. Even if most of them weren’t totally non-conversant with the technology, its impact and the uses to which the rest of the world puts it law takes time. It has to be crafted, considered, passed by elected houses of government and then enacted in statute. This may be occasionally bureaucratic but it is necessary, a bad law is worse than no law at all as it allows the guilty to go free and clever lawyers to get rich in the process.
We need laws that allow dimwits who threaten to blow up airports to be recognised as such and merely rapped on the knuckles for being a bell end rather than wasting millions on trials and appeals. But at the same time we need to be able to stop people making false claims and accusations based on here say or simply lying to increase their twitter following and Facebook “likes”.
I am a total believer in the principle of innocent until proven guilty – no matter what the crime someone is accused of. Without it we are no better than the selfish, greedy and sometimes simply evil people that break our laws.
So why on Facebook, Twitter etc do people feel that they can make comments, accusations and statements that they either know to be untrue or are simply made for effect? Because they are cretins at best or at worst they are cowardly bullies and trolls who hide behind the perceived anonymity of The Web.
Why the proceeding post? Well in this last week I’ve seen people connected with a news story reported in the national press derided, insulted and bullied simply because of their association with an alleged criminal. It made me sick to my stomach because it showed the worst side of human nature. When I was in the playground we all called each other names and it hurt, but as you get older you realise the damage words can do and how cruel bullying is.
The thing is most of us grow up and become adults. I pity those of us that don’t.