Recently 8 newspapers agreed to apologise to Chris Jefferies and pay him damages for libel after they destroyed his reputation because he happened – unluckily – to be the landlord of murder victim Joanna Yeates. After having his character completely destroyed on the front page the newspapers only deemed an apology worthy of page 2.
Whilst the Jefferies legal case was ongoing another person found their photo on the front page of many newspapers – and discovered that the press would happily trawl Facebook to take any comments, photos or behaviours wildly out of context to paint them as some kind of monster. This time it was Rebecca Leighton, suspected of poisoning pensioners in hospital. The Daily Mail – the single most unashamedly aggressive newspaper when it comes to front page character assassination – led with these two front pages:
The Daily Mail – of course – are far from alone here in demonising Leighton; in the same way that that the tabloids attacked Jefferies as a rabid pack. Other bloggers have taken the time to go through just what smears other newspapers came up with – including the Daily Star labelling Leighton as the ‘Angel of death’. Of course, Rebecca Leighton has now been cleared of all charges and hopefully she’ll sue all the newspapers involved for libel, but I’m pretty sure she would have rather been left alone in the first place, to be treated as if she were innocent until proven guilty.
Anyone with a Facebook account, a blog or indeed family, friends or acquaintances is just one moment away from having the tabloid press pack descend on them. Who knows what you may have once innocently or jokingly posted on Facebook or Twitter that will be taken out of context as evidence to sully your character or to demonstrate your guilt. All you need to be is in the wrong place at the wrong time and you could find your every past moment turned over, speculated about and used to create whatever demon the press would like you to be. How much longer are we going to accept that this is simply an accepted risk when living in the UK? How much longer will spineless politicians acquiesce to this?
The Daily Mail is now covering the ‘hell’ that the nurse went through with no mention of their lead role in creating the very hell that Leighton complains of:
My life has been turned upside down. All I ever wanted to do was pursue a profession in nursing and care for my patients.
And her parents state that the whole experience has been a ‘nightmare’ and that:
We just want to be left in peace now so we can get on with our lives.
These are not complaints levelled at the police – who were just doing their jobs – but at the tabloid press, and chief amongst the guilty is the Daily Mail who happily and brazenly print this follow-up story as if this ‘nightmare’ or ‘hell’ had nothing to do with them. I think this is exactly what Jonathan Ross means when he refers to Daily Mail writers as ‘noxious human beings’ and ‘insincere hypocrites’.