Yesterday the Sunday Mirror April 21 2013 carried a major front page story with headline ‘My Poor Rolf’ in the company of a ‘Full Story’ on Page 9, this accompanied by a further major headline ‘He’s really suffering.. he can’t even sleep’.
Whether intentional or not, these articles and their content presents a ‘sympathetic’ news story and pictures concerning a rich and influential public figure who reportedly has been arrested and bailed for a major crime (alleged historic sexual offences). There has to be a suspicion that such a story has been ‘placed’ to favour Mr. Rolf Harris when it is rumoured that his solicitors have been diligently fighting a failed battle to prevent his name being published in the Press in the first place. His wife is repeatedly quoted and is central to this storyline, yet presumably she could be a witness should Mr Harris be subsequently charged, so this is totally inappropriate.
This incident follows on from Daily Mirror similar ‘positive’ front page and Full Story articles about Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell (real name Michael Turner). For example ‘Michael Le Vell is all smiles at the bookies’ on March 23 2013; or 10 Mar 2013 ‘ “He’s going through hell”: Michael Le Vell’s sisters vow to stand by Corrie star over child sex allegations’. Mr Turner is accused of child sex offences and has already appeared in Court charged with 19 offences including 6 child rapes and faces a Crown Court trial in September. It is totally unacceptable that he as a high profile figure, and his friends, should be given a platform by the Press to claim his innocence and in addition also invoke widespread public sympathy. The question is why these stories are being published in the first place when they could clearly prejudice a trial by pre-influencing a jury?
Whether or not these individuals are judged innocent or guilty the due process of law will determine later and the Press need to protect that process. The Mirror Group are not the only newspapers who are carrying such stories, or are publishing them on the internet, so they are not solely accountable.
Surely the duty of the Press is to only report important or significant news in a non-prejudicial manner when a celebrity individual is accused of a major crime? Surely the Press ought not to risk the danger being in Contempt of Court or ever causing trials to collapse. Instead of that, there is gratuitous publication of tittle-tattle and the papers’ very positive comments hiding behind the cloak of ‘family’ or ‘friends’ giving statements or quotes designed to escape the (ever so soft) guidelines of the existing Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in dealing with such matters?
The Mirror Group (amongst other tabloid newspapers) have not been showing due responsibility in these matters and the alleged victims will be aghast at seeing the accused courting or using the Press so successfully. There are too many incidences of the Press chancing their arm like they did with the 2010 -11 disgraceful reporting about the entirely innocent Mr Chris Jefferies in the upsetting Joanna Yeates murder case. The Press are sailing close to the wind again with these very carefully constructed stories as complained about in this Post, as they don’t fear serious libel damage claims – as a gaggle of them rightly got hit with in the Jefferies saga aftermath (the Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Daily Record, the Daily Express, the Daily Star, the Scotsman; all breaching contempt laws and reporting which risked the outcome of any trial had in fact Mr. Jefferies been charged or indeed actually committed any offence!).
It would be a constructive action for the responsible elements of the Press and the PCC to put a stop to this now before things go further, wouldn’t it? Why doesn’t the PCC Code of Practice address such ‘problem’ storylines?