I accept that part of the role of the media is to keep us informed of current events. In a previous post I even went so far as to admit that I’m a ‘news junkie’ and I thrive on catching up on the latest news from here and abroad. However there has to be a limit where the news reporting ceases to be informative and becomes excessive, prurient, sensationalistic and offensive even to the keenest of its followers. In my opinion the television, radio and newspapers have crossed that boundary in the last 48 hours in their reporting of and around the sad and tragic murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.
I have no idea what induced some of the witnesses on Wednesday to get out their mobile phones to video the suspects parading around the murder scene brandishing their weapons whilst the victim’s blood still dripped from their hands. I believe the men were asking to be filmed (after all publicity is one of the purposes of a terrorist act) but did those who were there really have to comply with that request?
There is one obvious motive and that’s the money such a video or just a still photograph is worth. One witness has admitted on Twitter that he saw what happened and has been approached by all forms of media for an interview. He has turned them all down despite the biggest offer being £75k. If that’s what he was being offered for an interview imagine what ITV paid for the exclusive video they obtained from which many a still was extracted for publication on the next day’s front pages.
Even if you accept that members of the public did film at the scene, the media don’t have to offer obscene sums of money for them and buy them. If they get hold of them they certainly don’t have to show them on national television or publish stills from them in newspapers. I did not need to see the footage taken at the scene to understand what happened or to appreciate the horror of it all. The next day I found photographs showing the victim’s body lying in the road (albeit blurred out in some) repulsive and equally unnecessary to my comprehension of the facts.
If I found all that offensive imagine how the soldier’s family felt when they found out who it was.
Today, in furtherance of the media’s apparent lust for more coverage, they have moved on to profile the suspects, the poor victim and his family. I suppose some detail of the suspects and a little understanding of what motivated them to commit such a crime is in the public interest. It may help us to recognise early warning signs in others and even lead to the prevention of such an atrocity in the future. What does dragging the victim’s family in front of television cameras achieve though? Most of them where in tears and hardly able to speak. Who on earth convinced them that such a press conference was a good idea? Could it possibly have been the television companies who thought it might make good viewing?
Finally there’s the criticism that has been levelled by the press at the Security Services: It was good to hear the Communities Secretary defend them today. We live in a free society and we should treasure that fact. Identifying those that have turned from members of a radical group to violent extremists is almost impossible without losing many of the freedoms we hold so dear in this country. Recent proposed legislation to increase the amount of communications data that agencies can obtain has met with opposition. In my estimation we would have to give up a lot more than that if we want to prevent incidents like the one on Wednesday.