We are on a very slippery slope. Today was the day the media reached a sickening new lows in its unjust and disproportionate treatment of people it makes the objects of supposed news stories. The media has appointed itself the judge, jury and assassin of the characters of people for daring to say what they think.
Listeners to BBC Radio Five Live have endured near saturation coverage of what is probably being called ‘SkySportsGate’ behind the scenes. At the time of writing the story of Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys and pundit Andy Gray engaging in some misogynistic conversation about Premier League
linesman assistant referee Sian Massey and West Ham vice chairman Karren Brady remains the number two news item on the BBC News website.
It was the major news item this morning. Then it became the hastily promoted discussion piece on Nicky Campbell’s phone in. As the BBC’s editors salivated uncontrollably and developed moist loins at being able to put the boot in to Sky, the story rolled over into Victoria Derbyshire’s show. There the listeners were subjected to an all women prosecution, jury and judgement on the two men as speculation mounted about the appropriate punishment for this ‘offence’.
At this point Karren Brady was rolled out, without any hint of irony, to explain how these sexist comments made her ‘blood boil’ and castigate Keys and Gray for their comments. This of course is the same Karren Brady who was so opposed to sexism she left her advertising job at LBC radio to work for pornography publishing baron, David Sullivan. Not that La Derbyshire brought that up – although a number of listeners did via text and email. Being offended by sexism, it seems, is a selective condition in Brady’s case.
To say this is out of all proportion is the understatement of the century. Were their comments inappropriate? Were they laced with resentment at the spectacle of a female official? Were they ungentlemanly or downright rude? You know what, it doesn’t bloody matter because it was a private conversation between the two men. They were not comments made for public consumption. Yet some opportunist toad listening across the ‘talkback’ function before the coverage started made a copy of the comments; and instead of complaining to management, sent it to the press to turn it into a big story.
Nevertheless the BBC has lapped it up. After all, it’s their big rival Sky, a part Murdoch-owned organisation that achieves commercially what the BBC dare not attempt. The demonisation is total. Having been admonished and making an apology, the BBC coverage has pushed Sky into a public relations corner and so Keys and Gray now face disciplinary action. Not for a failure to do their job well, not for doing anything wrong on air, but for expressing their personal thoughts in a private conversation. The BBC have gone hunting for scalps and will not be satisfied until Keys and Gray have lost their livelihood. So now the two men are to be punished for what they think. It is deeply disturbing.
Update: After another clip of Gray being offensive was released he has been sacked by Sky Sports. It was justified but the manner of this coming to light, via the leaking of a private conversation, remains of great concern.
Readers of the Belfast Telegraph in recent days will have experienced near saturation coverage of the tragic honeymoon murder of Michaela McAreavey, the daughter of three-time Tyrone All-Ireland winning GAA manager Mickey Harte.
A beautiful, popular and by all accounts talented girl, Michaela was killed by hotel staff when she caught them stealing from her and her husband’s room. However the Belfast Telegraph’s intimate coverage of the story makes it feel like she has been elevated to the position of Northern Ireland’s Princess Diana.
The killers have been caught and made confessions. Michaela has been repatriated and buried. But still the Telegraph’s coverage continues unabated. To date, in the 13 days since the story broke, the Belfast Telegraph has published no less than 60 related articles about the killing, family grief, funeral, family background, calls for an inquiry etc. etc. Maybe you could expect such a number over a period of time if the case was open and police were still trying to catch the killer. But this case is all but over.
Not everyone appreciates the excessive coverage. One such person is a 19 year old girl called Susanne Morrison. Writing on her Facebook page, this witless kid – a part time photographer for an obscure paper in County Down:
ranted that she was “sick of hearing” about Michaela’s murder because she could not see “what makes her so special”.
Susanne also made other sickening remarks which we are not repeating.
Morrison’s comments are at best inelegant, and if her other remarks (removed from Facebook) are indeed ‘sickening’ then she is clearly unpleasant and inconsiderate as well. But the reaction of the Belfast Telegraph gives great cause for concern. Like the BBC in the casestudy above, the Telegraph has a self serving agenda. It has gone after Morrison in a faintly sinister manner that is deeply disturbing.
Without any good reason, the Belfast Telegraph has told readers where Morrison lives, Rathfriland. In a society where religious denomination is often denoted by the football team one supports, the BT tells readers that she supports Rangers and Linfield (predominantly protestant supported teams). To help readers identify Morrison, the Telegraph goes on to name her employer, the Co Down Outlook – while inflaming the matter by pointing out the paper ‘circulates in the area where Michaela’s devastated widower John McAreavey plays football for the Down county side’.
Despite Susanne Morrison’s comments having nothing to do with her part time employment, the Sunday Life (from where the Telegraph picked up this story) contacted the Co Down Outlook’s editor Joanne Ross – who then issued a statement saying that they were horrified by the Facebook comments and the paper was investigating. This is an example of the media attempting exact retribution by trying to harm someone’s career prospects and livelihood by dragging the employer into the story, where the employer feels compelled to take action for PR purposes. Why also is there any need to tell readers which High School Morrison attended and provide details of her HND qualification in photography? The Telegraph appears to be making Morrison a target for abuse by going to extraordinary lengths to give as many details of her as possible, while including a large colour photograph into the bargain.
It is both cynical and vicious, but it is also personal. For at the heart of the Telegraph’s determination to nail Morrison to the wall is her criticism of the Telegraph’s over the top and disproportionate coverage of the story. It says that Morrison had already widely circulated her comments on the Internet. But there is no evidence this idiotic and mouthy youngster did anything other than make comments on her Facebook page to her 600 or so ‘friends’ – a very different circulation to the tens of thousands of people who read the Telegraph.
This is another example of the media trying to silence people through direct bullying and the threat of intimidation and the potential loss of employment. It is an effort to dissuade people from expressing their thoughts and views, whether they are considered or obnoxious. It is by extension a form of censorship and attempt to stifle any opinion but that of the media outlet indulging its editorial whims. It is unacceptable, but it underlines the loss of freedom of expression and the growing intolerance in our society. It shows we are on a very slippery and disturbing slope.
Update: Following the Belfast Telegraph’s successful witch hunt, Susanne Morrison has lost her job. Her comments on Facebook were unpleasant but the Telegraph has twisted the story, claiming Morrison was criticising ‘the outpouring of grief’. She was not, she was criticising the completely disproportinate and self serving saturation coverage in the media, particularly in the Belfast Telegraph which is now up to 62 articles covering every conceivable angle of the story and family’s private aftermath. After what are alleged to be spiteful comments by Morrison the Telegraph sunk to her level and was equally spiteful because she had pointed out the overblown coverage.
What have we allowed this world to turn into? What have we allowed the self appointed elite to get away with? Is there any way to redress the balance?