Tabloid-fuelled Twitter hate

The parents of missing child Madeleine McCann appeared at the Levenson inquiry into newspapers’ bad behaviour yesterday, and Twitter proved beyond doubt that it’s the original story, not the retraction, that many people remember. As the McCanns described some extraordinarily evil behaviour by newspapers and their hired help, all kinds of apparently respectable people posted all kinds of appalling allegations on Twitter. Where did they get such ideas? The Guardian’s Esther Addley knows:

Kate and Gerry McCann… do not appear to be afraid of the press. What, after all, is it going to do to them? Accuse them of killing their three-year-old daughter Madeleine and transporting her corpse in their hire car? They’ve done that already, many times over. Report that they were undergoing IVF to get a “new” child to “replace” Madeleine? Done that too.

Suggest they were taking part in orgies and swingers’ parties? That they had kept Madeleine’s body in their freezer after murdering her? That they had sold their daughter into slavery to pay off family debts? They’ve seen it all before. Each one of those allegations appeared in a British newspaper in the months after this ordinary couple from rural Leicestershire became the victims of the most terrible crime any parent can imagine, the kidnap of their child.

I’m no fan of media regulation, but you can’t read that and think “yes! Self-regulation and the Press Complaints Council really does work!”

7 thoughts on “Tabloid-fuelled Twitter hate

  1. Stephen says:

    It’s very disturbing. But I honestly don’t know what can be done about it. Having government employees decide what newspapers can and can’t print is unthinkable. It wouldn’t work in a connected world anyway, as the superinjunctions proved.

    There does seem to be a general rule at work here, though: those who seek out publicity from the tabloids will not get it all on their own terms. This applies whether you do it for personal gain, or for more admirable reasons, as the McCanns did.

  2. Gary says:

    > Having government employees decide what newspapers can and can’t print is unthinkable.

    I don’t think that’s necessary or desirable, but I don’t think the current system – where you have a watchdog without teeth – works. The expense of legal action and newspaper groups’ deep pockets means they can essentially print whatever they like, and act however they like, without any consequences. Libel cases are extraordinarily expensive, risky and ineligible for legal aid.

    The behaviour of some hacks and paparazzi strikes me as illegal too.

    > those who seek out publicity from the tabloids will not get it all on their own terms.

    Not everybody seeks it out, and I think even if you do there’s a difference between newspapers reporting previous favourites’ falls from grace and newspapers harrassing people, intercepting their communications and/or completely inventing stories about them.

  3. Stephen says:

    If there is illegal behaviour then the fault lies with the police and the CPS. More laws won’t help if we can’t properly enforce the ones we already have. The high cost of litigation is a general problem affecting all interactions between individuals and wealthy corporates, and the introduction of contingency fee arrangements was a welcome development in this regard. Unfortunately it seems that development will soon be curtailed. Just another example of corporate socialism, I suppose. The State is too susceptible to capture by vested interests. It needs to be weakened, or destroyed.

  4. Gary says:

    > If there is illegal behaviour then the fault lies with the police and the CPS.

    Libel isn’t a criminal offence, it’s a civil one. Criminal libel was taken off the statute books a few years back.

    > the introduction of contingency fee arrangements was a welcome development in this regard.

    Not at 100% of the damages, it wasn’t. Plans to cut that maximum to 10% have apparently been depth-charged, and very, very few firms were willing to do libel cases for CFAs.

    > The State is too susceptible to capture by vested interests.

    Indeed. There’s a persuasive argument that MPs have been loath to rein in the media groups because they’re scared of being targeted.

    > It needs to be weakened, or destroyed.

    I don’t agree. The behaviour the inquiry is investigating is a classic example of how some corporations behave when they believe – rightly – that they can do whatever they want without any consequences.

  5. Stephen says:

    I know libel is civil: I meant your reference to illegal behaviour, which I took to mean phone hacking and other misuse of private information.

    I’d be surprised if firms wouldn’t do CFA libel, given how we’re always told how liberal the UK’s libel law is.

    The behaviour IS a classic example of corps behaving without check. But the answer is not to empower the State even more, since its power is simply captured by the vested interests and used against the individual. The answer is to empower the individual more and weaken the State so that it is not worth capturing. Then the only answer for corps will be to respond to individual needs. Think about file sharing. If the State had no power to fine or imprison us for downloading content, the rights holders would have no choice but to make content easier and more convenient to purchase online.

    Just as the power of the monarchy was slowly bled away over time by empowering first the barons, then the merchants, and finally the individual, so the power of the State can be bled away, until it is nothing more than a figurehead. No-one today would bother trying to bribe the Queen!

  6. Gary says:

    I think one reason illegal behaviour wasn’t enforced was the same reason MPs weren’t acting against the media firms: fear of being the next target.

    > The answer is to empower the individual more

    How?

  7. Squander Two says:

    I think some classes of libel should be criminal offenses. For a start, wasting police time is criminal. If you publish allegations of murder, the police should in theory follow them up. If you’re just making shit up, that’s wasting police time. Maybe beef up the sentence for wasting police time in a national publication.

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