Social media users were quick today to judge this unpleasant tirade on a London tram – and who can blame them? It’s not clear what causes the rant from the woman with a child on her lap, but it seems that she was at it for long enough for a fellow passenger to film her and post the clip on YouTube.
Tens of thousands of views later, the woman is trending on Twitter and in the media spotlight after having been arrested by police investigating the incident.
The reaction to the outburst on social media contrasts with the way journalists have treated it, despite having access to the same material. Note the use of the word ‘allegedly’ in The Guardian’s report of the incident this morning, appearing to show restraint as a police investigation takes place in the background, even though anyone who sees the clip will surely come to a quick conclusion about what’s happened.
It highlights a key difference between news journalism and social media and the way they reflect on the world. In the news, the woman ‘allegedly’ makes racist comments because she has not yet been convicted of anything and newsdesks are mindful of Contempt of Court legislation. To those sitting in judgement on their laptops and iPhones, such phrases can make the old media seem flat-footed. How much more blatant can one get? Well, only time will tell.
Either way, most people agree it’s pretty disgraceful (if genuine) and will hope the police bring the case to a quick close.
The Guardian’s readers’ editor on…the presumption of innocence and the reporting of arrests
I am a fan of The Guardian’s readers’ editor column, which analyses the paper’s judgements and explains them to readers who’ve often been moved to criticise it. Today’s column looks at recent reporting of high-profile arrests, which have later seen suspects released without charge but not before they’ve been identified first. Cases such as Christopher Jefferies (which I’ve blogged on recently) and, more recently, Rebecca Leighton have raised huge doubts about the way the media appears to rush to judgement in its reporting of some crimes. This piece explains some thinking behind these judgements – although it’s worth asking whether The Guardian would have needed to give the story of Rebecca Leighton’s release ‘due prominence’ had it not named her in earlier reports immediately following her arrest.
It emerged yesterday that Avon and Somerset Police took the rare step of banning ITV News from its morning press briefing because it had run a story the previous night that was the force thought was unfairly critical of its investigation. The ban was lifted, and the report did not threaten to undermine potential legal proceedings (as other reports have done). But it’s a measure of how tense things have become, and illustrates how the media risks misjudging the balance between reporting freely (which should always be allowed) and irresponsibly (which the police are right to act against, in the interests of finding Joanna Yeates’ killer).
Meanwhile, the Bristol Evening Post’ssplash yesterday reported how media organisations were written to by suspect Christopher Jefferies’ lawyers and warned of their probing into, and reporting of, their client’s life. The high number of reader comments underneath the story (not all are relevant, admittedly) demonstrate the strength of feeling and interest there is locally about the case.
When I worked in newspapers, it was made clear that you did not write stories about the antics of fellow journalists; the public was ‘not interested’ in such introspection. When the news media does report on itself, you can be sure that something is seriously amiss, as Roy Greenslade points out here.
Inevitably, some coverage resulting from the arrest of suspect Christopher Jefferies raised concerns that the media could undermine the investigation. This will be all too familiar to those with an understanding of how crime is reported in this country.