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.
The irony of The Guardian’s piece yesterday about a new website which exposes the extent to which news items are lifted from press releases is that (fascinating though it is) it is hardly ‘newsworthy’ that this happens.
The Media Standards Trust’sChurnalism website allows readers to paste press releases into a ‘churn engine’ and receive a rating which shows the percentage of any given article that has been reproduced from publicity material. It’s a very clever way of highlighting the issues surrounding the interface between journalism and PR, which is often portrayed as undermining the very fabric of democratic discourse in this country.
Andy Gray’s sacking today after another of his puerile outbursts (this time to colleague Charlotte Jackson last month, above) has taught him a harsh lesson. Someone of his experience should know that ‘private’ (as in off air) comments are still fair game if someone within earshot finds them offensive enough to share with the media. In fact, if you utter them in a room full of people, it isn’t very ‘private’ at all, and therefore probably best kept to yourself.
For evidence of this, you only need to look at the coverage that followed yesterday’s announcement. The Guardian,who pursues this story with an almost obsessive zeal, went to town on it again yesterday, with a mountain of analysis and questions about the police, governance at News International and David Cameron’s judgement.
The coverage on the website of News International sister paper The Sun, however, is much less critical.
You can see Mr Coulson’s statement, issued yesterday, in full here.