Back Issues 05.02.04

REFUSING TO BE SILENCED

Editors were hitting out at the Police Federation, claiming its funding of a stream of libel actions by officers were gagging newspapers from publishing stories critical of the police. The stories attracting writs often reported criticism of police conduct without naming individual officers. But lawyers acting for the federation were seen as adept at bringing evidence claiming the officers had been identified by colleagues, friends and relatives. Wolverhampton Express & Star editor Keith Parker said: “No other group in the public sector have what appears to be a form of legal aid for libel. You must wonder if this is healthy and right for society.”

A TWISK OF FORTUNE

Readers’ Digest had held on to its top slot as Britain’s best-selling magazine with sales for the second half of 1993 up 9 per cent to 1,660,170. The magazine claimed the reason for its success was readers looking for a return to “family values”.  The magazine had ousted Radio Times from the top slot the previous autumn. Editor Russell Twisk had added campaigning articles, including a
drive to clean up Britain’s beaches and a survey of teenagers attitudes to sex, to attract readers.

MELLOR’S MCCARTHY MOMENT

David Mellor, who was forced to resign as Heritage Secretary after The People exposed his affair with an actress, had returned to the lions’ den to present the British Press Awards. Mellor said he accepted that if a politician was foolish in the conduct of his private life he couldn’t complain if it were made public. He added: “I do, however, feel that the lust for exposing trivial lapses by obscure legislators in a climate more redolent of the late Senator McCarthy has gone too far.”

HARTLEY HOUNDED OUT

Another Conservative forced to resign because of a sex scandal was Finchley MP Hartley Booth. He quit as the Sunday Mirror was about to expose his relationship with a young researcher. The Daily Telegraph suggested that the hounding of MPs had become a
“bloodsport for the media”. But according to local journalists there was little criticism of the press in Booth’s constituency. They said Booth had appeared with his wife and three children at his first photo-call and had defended the Tories’ “back-to-basics” policy in the Hendon & Finchley Times. Reporter Paul Francis told Press Gazette: “People in Westminster might shrug their shoulders about another MP caught in a sex scandal, but people out in the constituencies are shocked by it. The thing is, the grassroots Tory supporters love back-to-basics – they want a moral crusade.”

PRESS DEFEND ‘DEAD MP IN STOCKINGS’ TALE

It was an unforgettable headline – Tory MP is Found Dead in Stockings and Suspenders” – but it caused outrage. MPs turned their wrath on police for leaking lurid details of the death of MP Stephen Milligan, a former BBC journalist. Newspaper editors and their journalists responded by saying the leaks had come from MPs themselves. Daily Mail chief crime correspondent Peter Burden told Press Gazette: “It’s absolutely astonishing that these politicians who leaked the details themselves are now rounding on the police.”

‘GLEE AT MISFOR TUNE’

Dominick Harrod, the former BBC journalist who had worked with Milligan, criticised the media coverage of his death. In his inaugural speech as president of the Institute of Journalists he said: “Stephen’s is only the most acute case of an atmosphere almost of glee in the press about the misfortune or misdemeanors, however slight, of those people we regard as legitimate objects of public interest.”

MAIL RAPPED OVER GREER STORY

Mail on Sunday editor Jonathan Holborow defended the use of subterfuge by a reporter who gained access to the home of writer Germaine Greer by posing as homeless. A three-page article in The MoS was written by the reporter after he took Greer’s offer, made in The Big Issue, to share her house with a homeless person. The Press Complaints Commission condemned the article for being intrusive. But Holborow said: “I do not know of any other way in which the story could have been obtained – a story, I might add, that most of Fleet Street was after.”

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