Here in Britain there is an investigation going on into the tragic murder of Joanna Yeates whose body was discovered on Christmas day. The coverage of the grief of the woman’s parents and boyfriend has been extremely moving. It goes without saying that the whole country offers deepest sympathy to the bereaved.
The media storm around this case has been amazing. Firstly there was the coverage of the arrest on suspicion of murder of Joanna Yeates’s 65-year-old landlord Chris Jefferies. He’s since been released on bail. The Enemies of Reason blog summarises the coverage as follows:
“His photograph has appeared on the front page of national newspapers 11 times. He was described as “weird”, “lewd”, “strange”, “creepy”, “angry”, “odd”, “disturbing”, “eccentric”, “a loner” and “unusual” in the course of just one article. That the former English teacher should have liked the classic Oscar Wilde poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol wasdescribed by one article as “Chris Jefferies’ favourite poem was about killing wife”. That the teacher should have taught pupils about the horror of the Holocaust and a classic novel by Wilkie Collins was described as him being “obsessed with death”.
It seemed that reporters had forgotten that, at this point, they were talking about an innocent man. None of us knows who is responsible for the murder until someone is tried and found guilty. I found it scary how people seemed to want to drag a person through the mud because he looked a bit different to the way most people look, came from a different background than most people and had different interests to most people. Are we really still so keen to do that in this country?
The other incredible development was Avon and Somerset Police excluding Independent Television News from a press conference. I haven’t quite figured out whether this was related to the coverage of Chris Jeffries’s arrest or whether it was because ITN had been generally critical of the Police investigation. How frightening the thought that police might be able to bar certain journalists from press conferences if they don’t like the way the case is being reported. If the exclusion was anything to do with the dodgy coverage of Mr Jeffries’s arrest then the police should also bear some of the blame because they chose to arrest him on suspicion of murder instead of using the usual ‘helping us with inquiries’ line. Did they do this to help satisfy the need to show the slavering media hounds that they were making progress? If so, they sort of deserved a critical assessment from ITN didn’t they?
What’s worrying is the possibility that 1. the papers can put your whole life on the front page and strongly imply that you are a murderer BEFORE you’ve been tried; 2. if you look and act different to the norm you’ll get torn to shreds; 3. police can exclude journalists from press conferences if they critically assess an investigation; 4. police are so keen to satiate the media that they jump on the first suspect and arrest him or her on suspicion of murder!
What do you think?
ORIGINAL PHOTO BY MATT CARDY, no copyright infringement intended.