With today’s tragic event in Westhill I was reminded of the pariahs of the press that want to add that element of human interest into a story so they doorstop neighbours of the woman who died in the fire, to get their thoughts on the subject at seven o’clock in the morning. While I understand that they are “only doing their job” I struggle to see what the readers will gain from a few words from someone who is probably coming to terms with the situation themselves at that point. The same happened a few years back when a pupil was run over. The papers and radio were straight on the phone to family and asking them for their thoughts. This kind of behaviour is disrespectful to those involved.
We see this too at the hospital that Nelson Mandela is a patient at in South Africa. Yesterday the family said they felt that the media were like vultures just waiting for his death so they could carry off a morsel to their editors. It is almost like they are trying to build to a crescendo over the days of his illness – practically willing him to die so they can justify the time, effort and money involved in having so many of the world’s press present. Mandela is an icon – a man who stands for the best in humanity and when his time does come we will all be informed by the hospital and the family so there’s no need to camp outside like news zombies waiting to feast on bad news.
The media have an important job to do and I respect those who do it well and don’t need to stoop to these scavenging tactics – they report the news and the that is the story. Not the thoughts of a passer by, or a former employer, or a friend of the family or anyone else. If a family want to release information then they will in their own time without a microphone or Dictaphone being shoved in their faces. I know someone who was a photographer who was asked to creep around outside people’s houses to try to get photo of the occupant who was the subject of a story – thankfully they refused to do it but someone else picked up the baton and the problem continues. Today there were reports of people hiding in bushes and climbing fences to get photos of the house where the tragedy happened – so no lessons are being learned.
When we read these stories, too often we forget that the people involved are victims and fellow human beings not puppets that must dance to our tune. They have often faced a horrific event or bereavement but our less well educated press and public expect them still to perform for us. They are not celebrities – this is real life and the people need their space and their dignity to be left when often other important things have been taken from them. A good journalist informs you of the facts, but a bad journalist tries to find an angle and that is wrong. From local news like today’s to international stories like Sandy Hook we need a sense of perspective and the press need to keep a distance to allow those qualified to investigate space and time to do their jobs.
I don’t need the gossip and the hearsay; I don’t need 24 hour news reporters standing waiting for news that might not come; I don’t want someone who hardly knew those involved to pass opinion. I want the families to be left to live their lives and not be the subject of tittle-tattle. It seems as if all the lessons that Leveson was supposed to bring the press have just been ignored and the same old practices are still at work.