‘A lot of people’s lives have been damaged by the press and they don’t have any redress.” This broad-yet-vague assertion was made by Julie Kirkbride, a journalist-turned-politician who will join Gerald Kaufman’s select committee investigating media intrusion that begins its hearings next month.
Similarly, on Press Gazette’s letters page last week, Victim Support noted that it was faced with a “daily task of consoling those whose lives have been devastated by crime and who have then effectively been re-victimised by insensitive and exploitative media intrusion”.
If there really is an army of people out there who feel they have been victimised by careless and callous journalists, then it must be of great concern to all of us.
But how many such victims are there? Kaufman’s committee hopes they will come forward in numbers to testify. We’ll see.
Some suspect he has other hopes too. Perhaps that their answers may pave the way to undermining self-regulation.
The Press Complaints Commission’s own 6,500-word submission, which will rightly highlight how effective the Editors’ Code has been at dealing with ordinary members of the public – and raising standards of journalism across the country – will go a long way towards countering that threat.
Any editors who have not already written to their MP explaining why self-regulation is so effective, should do so now.
Yet we should not casually dismiss any members of the public who do come forward.
No one could fail to be moved by the story of Elizabeth Stors, who told Press Gazette this week about coverage of the violent murder of her 18-year-old daughter Rebecca in South Wales three years ago.
Although her local paper treated the story with respect and sensitivity, Mrs Stors believed that once it was on the regional and national agenda, the feelings of her family were not given a second thought. How, she wonders, would we react if the words “gutted like a fish” – reported from the inquest – on the front page of a national newspaper referred to a member of our family. How would we feel if our 14-year-old daughter could not leave the house because she didn’t want her picture in the paper because of her sister’s murder?
That is not to suggest that anybody flinches from covering important stories. But it does none of us any harm to think very carefully about the questions that Mrs Stors raises.