Friday 25 June 2010

Cumbrian MP launches attack on the media

On 23 June, the MP for Copeland, in Cumbria, made a speech in the House of Commons about the murders committed by Derrick Bird.

Jamie Reed spoke about the community, the police and the victims. But he also was very critical of much of the media coverage and called for a:

better, enforceable code of conduct for the media

He said:

In such situations, there is no place for the media's invented exclusives, its prurience and voyeurism, its mawkish brutality and its cold-blooded pursuit of profit at the expense of the families of those most affected.

Everyone expects intense media coverage of tragedies such as that which affected Cumbria, but do people really expect the news to give way to entertainment?

I wish to talk about the behaviour of much of the media in recent weeks, and the anger and dismay that it has caused among my community.

He made clear that this ire was aimed mainly at the national media:

The media local to the tragedy - the Whitehaven News, the News & Star, the North West Evening Mail, Border television, BBC Radio Cumbria and "Look North" - reported the tragedy with a care and diligence entirely different from that of the national media.

That is because they are rooted in the area and care about the people about whom they are reporting. They understand the power of their roles and the effects of carrying them out in particular ways.

The Whitehaven News was particularlyimpressive, as just one week before, it had reported the tragic deaths of Kieran Goulding and Chloe Walker, constituents who were killed in the Keswick bus crash. Like the News & Star, the Whitehaven News understands the role that it plays in my community and how it can help the community's healing process-not the families' healing process, perhaps, but certainly the community's.

To give a parallel - I know that this is a difficult issue - certain national newspapers have elicited feelings in my community similar to those that were elicited in Liverpool by the way that the Hillsborough tragedy was reported.

He added:

The second lesson is not to seek to curb the freedom of the press or broader media, but to seek a better, enforceable code of conduct for the media.

Certain desperate, spiteful journalists have written some dreadfully inaccurate copy simply because members of the community would not speak to them on learning that they were journalists.

That reflects badly on those journalists; naming them would surprise nobody and so serves no purpose today.

It would be fair to assume that Carole Malone may well be one of those he won't name.

One price we pay for a free press is its freedom to write such misleading and opinionated bile. However, press intrusion is not a price anyone has ever agreed to pay.

Nobody ever agreed to have journalists camped on their doorsteps while they were in the immediate aftermath of bereavement; to have friends and family members offered money if they spoke to, or obtained a photo of, a distraught relative of one of those who died; or to have six-figure sums paid for exclusives, or smaller sums paid to them if they could tell the whereabouts or movements of certain individuals, even if those individuals would be going to school that day.

And Reed explained he's going to try and do something about it:

If the west Cumbrian community demonstrates just how far from being broken Britain really is, then behaviour like that from certain sections of the media demonstrates just how dysfunctional and broken the media's values are, and that their attempts to infect decent society with their values are iniquitous and wrong.

I know journalists who have had their stomachs turned by the actions of some in their fold - they are far from being all the same - but surely such behaviour cannot be sanctioned and must be stopped.

To that end, I will write to the National Union of Journalists and the Press Complaints Commission to seek meetings, and to discuss how the issue can be taken forward and how professional codes of practice can be improved significantly.

I have spent so much time talking about the media because the activities of certain sections of them have weighed particularly heavily on the community in recent weeks. They have caused particular distress, anger and concern, and I feel duty-bound to articulate those concerns today.

His intentions are good, but whether the Press Complaints Commission or the Editor's Code Committee (the latter chaired by Mail Editor Paul Dacre) will act is very doubtful.

Moreover, although Reed's comments were reported on Radio 4's Today in Parliament, it seems they have been ignored by almost every other national media outlet.

Given the strength of his remarks, perhaps that's not surprising - large sections of the media seem incapable of accepting, or even acknowledging, any criticism of their behaviour and so ignore the debate that needs to be had about newspaper regulation.


  1. Such a moving and accurate speech deserves to be reproduced far and wide. It's excellent that you've drawn attention to it.
    (Tried to do my bit here

  2. Well said, Jamie Reed.

    I rather wish he had named the journalists he referred to, though.

  3. It's the phrase "mawkish brutality" that I can't shake out of my mind. I must admit I'd never heard of Reed before, but his speech was up there with the best of Robin Cook's oratory. Pity it won't get as much attention. Vicky's right, we need to push it where the MSM won't.

  4. I totally agree with him, except that, and this is of course my own very cynical view, I'm more inclined to think that the local media covered it in a more suitable manner because if they hadn't, it would have sent their sales crashing, whereas the national media need not fear this backlash owing to the baying cries for entertaining news which manage to overcome the calls for sensitivity amongst this wider audience. Just my 2 cents worth.

  5. I remember seeing a video from a US professor expert-type in matters such as this. He hit every nail several times over if I recall correctly. Can't remember his name though - 'twas an unusual one I think...

  6. Aha! Remembered now - it was featured in the wonderful Charlie Brooker's Newswipe:

  7. Carol Malone is a nasty piece of work. Many local people complained to the Press Complaints Commission about her article in the NOW - the result was that the complaint was thrown aout because her article was her own views - the PCC piss in the same pot as the newspapers. They are a complete waste of time!

    Read the complaint and the PCC response here:


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