Dealing with the devil

It may just have been one of those coincidences but just after the Leveson Inquiry heard from Kate and Gerry McCann I was listening to the Media Show on BBC Radio 4, including an interview with former News of the World Features Editor Jules Stenson who was bemoaning what was happening.

His argument was that witnesses at the inquiry had made statements which had gone unchallenged. Tabloid newspapers, he said, had been ‘smeared’ with ‘no right of reply’. Having heard the two hour testimony of the McCanns it was hard not to laugh but there is a more serious point here. Journalists – and as Stenson rightly pointed out only 16 of the NoW’s staff of more than 200 are the subject of the police investigation into hacking – are concerned that when Lord Leveson’s job is done they will face an over-restrictive regulatory regime. That is a legitimate concern but it must not be allowed to cloud the central issue – something has to be done to curb media excesses.

This whole thing was triggered by revelations about ‘phone hacking but it isn’t that activity, which is illegal in any case, that we need to focus on. The law can deal with anyone found guilty of hacking but regulation needs to be tightened to deal with all the other instances in which some newspapers and some of their journalists act in unacceptable ways.

Kate and Gerry McCann gave us an insight into what it’s like being at the centre of a media storm.
Yes, they needed publicity to help in the search for their daughter; yes media attention on Madeleine’s disappearance was legitimate but none of that justifies what followed – the invasion of every aspect of the McCann’s life.

During my ‘media expert’ appearance in ITV Central’s report on the McCanns’ evidence one of the men in a vox pop recorded in their village said the couple had been given more publicity over Maddy’s disappearance than other families in the same position. His view was that they’d been treated pretty fairly. I can’t sympathise with that view anymore than I can spare a tear for those poor old smeared tabloid hacks in Jules Stenson’s view of events.

In his evidence Steve Coogan said he had never entered ‘a Faustian pact’ with the media as some celebrities choose to do. The McCann’s were given no choice about ‘having a relationship’ with the media but they must have felt very much as if they were dealing with the devil.