Double standards in the phone-hacking scandal


12:57 pm - July 9th 2011

by Robert Sharp    


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Let us note that the images featured on the front pages of many newspapers last week were those of the most iconic cases of recent years. Sarah Payne, hollyandjessica, Millie Dowler, Madeline McCann: the news-stands appeared to be some macabre Abduction Hall of Fame.

This is actually a dream come true for rivals of News of the World.

It is the invasion of privacy of these families that the rival newspapers are keen to report, because they too know that it is images of these children that sell.

And by pasting the famous images onto Page 1, I would say that they too are stepping, once more, into the grief of these families.

Meanwhile, black men and boys (the victims of inner-city stabbings that are far more common than the abduction of white school-girls) don’t seem to be mentioned in the reports. Is this because Glen Mulcaire and his News of the World handlers did not think the stories were sufficiently interesting?

Or that today’s politicians and editors judge that an invasion of the privacy of (say) Damilola Taylor’s family would not sufficiently motivate the public, in a way that the Soham murders apparently do? Whichever explanation is closer to the truth, it says something unpleasant about our society and our media.

It is ironic that, in expressing outrage at the practices of the tabloids, we fall back on the precisely those assumptions and values that we otherwise claim to despise.

A final note: in the House of Commons last week, the Prime Minister made some throwaway comment about how the phone-hacking scandal was no longer “just about celebrities and politicians”. It is sometimes difficult to remember that both those groups are humans beings too!

They deserve precisely the same protection from the law as the families of murdered schoolgirls. The Rule of Law is the Rule of Law. When it is broken, the Prime Minister’s outrage should not be contingent on who the victim is.

Cross-posted, as usual

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Reader comments


1. Comrade Tebbit

So Taylor’s family are victims of the NOTW because they weren’t hacked?

Its also silly because everyone knows there was huge amounts of coverage into that case.

2. Charlieman

@OP, Robert Sharp: “And by pasting the famous images onto Page 1, I would say that they too are stepping, once more, into the grief of these families.”

I think it is a bit more complicated than that. When the press recycle a photo, they are not just resurrecting grief but destroying happy memories.

When a child goes missing, the family is asked to provide a photo that will be used by the press and police. The photo has to be representative but informal, and the family typically hand over a photo of a smiling, happy child. The photos of Madeline McCann, as an example, show a beaming young girl enjoying life.

The downside for the family is that particular image of a lost child will always be associated with the loss, the search and possibly a trial. The photo that formerly reminded family of a fun holiday or day at the seaside becomes the image of despair. Every time the photo is reprinted in a newspaper, despair is reinforced and joyous recollections are diminished.

3. Chaise Guevara

“A final note: in the House of Commons last week, the Prime Minister made some throwaway comment about how the phone-hacking scandal was no longer “just about celebrities and politicians”. It is sometimes difficult to remember that both those groups are humans beings too!

They deserve precisely the same protection from the law as the families of murdered schoolgirls. The Rule of Law is the Rule of Law. When it is broken, the Prime Minister’s outrage should not be contingent on who the victim is.”

Well said.

It is double standards, but can it really be any other way with tabloid journalism?
It needs that something extra to get the right cases that people will care about.

Black teenagers being killed in sociopathic ”black on black” violence doesn’t shock as much for several reasons. One being, it’s just so common. Whereas the murder of Stephen Lawrence did, and not just for the way the police messed up the case, but that because the killers were white racists.
With all the killings of young people in London in recent years, even though most of the victims have been black, the ones the national media focused on most were white.
Like the brother of the Eastenders actress in North London. And again it was because of the angle that the press could use with it. These were urban white kids who had done well at school and the papers liked to shock their readership with how dangerous it could be for middle class white people living in the inner city boroughs.

Just as a side point, we saw how badly Kia Abdullah got it wrong when she tweeted about the deaths of three gap year students in Thailand,
Her initial reaction on reading it was seeing the boys really posh sounding names.
She apologised for that and I don’t think she should be hounded for her mistake.
And it was mine too, before I ever heard what she said. I didn’t ”smile” but I thought how sad that three ”posh boys” from Dulwich had been killed on their gap year.

On the same day, I read of the latest teenager to be killed by other teenagers in London. The boy was named as Yemurai Lovemore Kanyangarara, and it was the top story on the Mail on Sunday website. And again I had thoughts about his unusual sounding name.
Not so unusual these days perhaps, but I imagined I wasn’t the only one to notice it.
He came to Britain as a young child from Zimbabwe apparently. He and the boys who died in the coach crash were all at south London comprehensive schools, so were contemporaries, but at first glance their deaths might elicit different reactions.
The three for being posh, and the other boy for being another victim of the urban youth violence and having an African name.

6. Charlieman

@4. damon: “Black teenagers being killed in sociopathic ”black on black” violence doesn’t shock as much for several reasons. One being, it’s just so common.”

Murder rate in the UK is similar to other countries like us, our neighbours. Murder is not common. Black youths harming/killing black youths stands out as a sore thumb in the statistics. But it is not common.

I am not complacent. I resent the concept of a gang owning the street or post code. But it is not common. And it should not be common.


If the Met are conducting an investigation into NotW, they’ll probably trip over the Stephen Lawrence investigation. That officers conducting the investigation were familiar with gangsters associated with the accused?

With coppers looking over the records of NotW, many nuggets will be discovered. Crimes solved, and he was her mate, gorgeous gossip. There is a fucking big problem here, alas: the Met are conducting the operation.

The real double standard is the comparison of the kid who hacked into the Pentagon, and had the police round to take all his computers, phones etc etc, and NI.

Why have the police not marched into NI and taken all their computers? They have had weeks to shred and delete documents.

8. Charlieman

7. sally: “Why have the police not marched into NI and taken all their computers?”

I reckon that I can work this one out.

I have had many living rooms in my life. My current living room has space for a couple of 19 inch racks. I would need to borrow my neighbours’ living room to accommodate any more. And that ping, ping sound that you hear in the background? That is down to power supply failure.

9. Oliver Hutchings

” that are far more common than the abduction of white school-girls”

Mr Sharp ignores the other implication of this point. The focus on these abductions need not be the product of racialism (although establishing the motive with any degree of certainty is impossible), but instead it seems likely it is a reflection of the fact that such incidents, being fewer, excite more interest.

“They deserve precisely the same protection from the law as the families of murdered schoolgirls. The Rule of Law is the Rule of Law. When it is broken, the Prime Minister’s outrage should not be contingent on who the victim is.”

Phone hacking is, of course, always wrong but I don’t think it unreasonable to have more sympathy with the victims of it who were placed in the public light through no fault of their own than with those who deliberately sought the attention of the tabloid press before it occurred. Will not all they that take the sword perish with the sword?

10. Charlieman

Lost.

What do you need to do generate press interest in your life?

Thanks for the comments, folks.

Meanwhile, black men and boys (the victims of inner-city stabbings that are far more common than the abduction of white school-girls) don’t seem to be mentioned in the reports. Is this because Glen Mulcaire and his News of the World handlers did not think the stories were sufficiently interesting?

Are you really suggesting that Mulcaire’s alleged racism in not hacking the phones of black gangster victims is more culpable than what he did?

That is a liberal conspiracy theory.

13. Oliver Hutchings

Charlieman:

“What do you need to do generate press interest in your life?”

You enter a career that is wholly or partly dependent upon gaining media attention, the two main ones being politics and ‘being famous’ more generally. My point is that anyone who does such a thing both invites media coverage and derives benefit from it, knowing what the media are like. They therefore deserve less sympathy when they fall foul of the media’s tricks than the victim of a crime, who has not sought media attention. As J. Enoch Powell put it: “For a politician to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea”.

Pagar @12:

Are you really suggesting that Mulcaire’s alleged racism in not hacking the phones of black gangster victims is more culpable than what he did?

No I most certainly am not. The choices of who was to tapped is noteworthy and interesting because of what it says about what sells newspapers.

@6. Charlieman: ”Murder rate in the UK is similar to other countries like us, our neighbours. Murder is not common. Black youths harming/killing black youths stands out as a sore thumb in the statistics. But it is not common.”

Perhaps it’s not common compared to the USA. But ten minutes looking at the ”London Murder Map” does show up some trends that are most unwelcome.

http://www.murdermap.co.uk/murder-map.asp

Zooming in and clicking on the murder cases in the part of south London that I grew up in, shows loads in the last few years that I had never heard of before.

@ Robert

The choices of who was to tapped is noteworthy and interesting because of what it says about what sells newspapers.

What sells papers are stories that are unusual or extraordinary in some way.

A young black man stabbing another young black man is relatively commonplace.

A white man being stabbed is more unusual but only really noteworthy if he happens to be a school headmaster or the the brother of a soap star.

A young black man being killed by a young white man is quite rare, and therefore newsworthy, particularly because a racist angle can be worked. So the murders of Anthony Walker and Stephen Lawrence produced a great deal of publicity and public sympathy.

The murders of young girls by sexual predators is extremely rare and, therefore, always newsworthy.

Your implication that black on black murders are under reported because of racism among reporters or lack of empathy from the public is nonsense.

As the post suggests … A lesson to come out of this concerns a tendency of all of us to dismiss infringements on the rights of others when we can classify them (eg: film stars) as deserving of it, to indulge in mild schadenfreude but then we allow (encourage?) such infringements to go on to what is clearly obscene or corrupting. As in the adage ” … and when they came for me, there was no one left to defend me”.


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