Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Free Press

Earlier this year, the Sunday Times published a story revealing the identity of "Abby Lee", the girl with a one-track mind. Here is the email she received (via) warning her that they were about to publish her identity against her wishes.
Dear Miss [my name],

We intend to publish a prominent news story in this weekend's paper, revealing your identity as the author of the book, Girl With a One Track Mind.

We have matched up the dates of films you have worked on - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Batman Begins and Lara Croft Tomb Raider - and it is clear that they correlate to your blog. We have obtained your birth certificate, and details about where you went to school and college.

We propose to publish the fact that you are 33 and live in [my address] -London, and that your mother, [her name], is a [her address] -based [her profession]. The article includes extracts from your book and blog, relevant to your career in the film industry. We also have a picture of you, taken outside your flat.

Unfortunately, the picture is not particularly flattering and might undermine the image that has been built up around your persona as Abby Lee. I think it would be helpful to both sides if you agreed to a photo shoot today so that we can publish a more attractive image.

We are proposing to assign you our senior portrait photographer, Francesco Guidicini, and would arrange everything to your convenience, including a car to pick you up. We would expect you to provide your own clothes and make up. As the story will be on a colour page, we would prefer the outfit to be one of colourful eveningwear.

We did put this proposal to you yesterday, but heard nothing back. Clearly this is now a matter of urgency, and I would appreciate you contacting me as soon as possible. To avoid any doubt we will, of course, publish the story as it is if we do not hear from you.

Yours sincerely,
Nicholas Hellen

Acting News Editor
Sunday Times
It's unusual for the details of one of these emails to come out and fair play to "Abby" for publishing it. Let's hope that the bastards at the Sunday Times don't decide to retaliate.

That Sunday Times, the "quality" end of Murdoch's newspaper holdings, would behave in such a way reveals a great deal about the code of ethics under which his media empire operates. Can it in any way be said to be in the public interest to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger in this way? Clearly not. The only interest at work here is that of News International.

And this sort of thing goes on all the time. Yesterday, H from Steps (I believe that's his full name) "revealed his sexuality to the Sun" in a relatively sympathetic article. It is written as if he made the decision to come out himself but he'd obviously been on the receiving end of similar treatment and decided to cooperate rather than fight it and get slated.

A family friend's son plays for a Scottish Premier League football team. After a messy and acrimonious split with his wife, she went to the Scum and made a number of false allegations against him. The Scum offered him a chance to give his side of the story and he denied the allegations. They then printed these false allegations as fact anyway and portrayed him as a monster in a series of articles. Since the stories were published, he has been on the receiving end of constant abuse from opposition fans and has been attacked several times while out in the "real world". For the most part, he now avoids bars and clubs ; he can no longer enjoy an evening out with friends for fear that he will be involved in another incident.

He has been advised that challenging the Scum over the printing of false allegations would be hugely expensive and would most likely make the situation worse. The fear is that they'd "do a Sheridan" on him (News International lost that case but Sheridan's reputation was destroyed along the way). Ultimately, there is very little that can be done.

The truth is that the tabloid press, particularly the Murdoch press, is largely unaccountable; they do what they like with little fear of unwelcome consequences. Our politicians are certainly far too scared of them to confront them.

That leaves us, the paying public, as the only ones who can do anything about this.

I'm pretty certain that no-one has been surprised by anything I've written here. That this sort of thing goes on is not really a secret. And I'm also pretty certain that no-one approves of the behaviours described here. But am I sure that no-one who reads this gives any money to Murdoch's empire? Not so much.

Here are the brands to avoid if you don't want to contribute to paying people like Nicholas Hellen's wages.
  • The Sun
  • The News of the World
  • The Times
  • The Sunday Times
  • BSkyB
Book lovers should know that Murdoch owns HarperCollins Publishers and interwebbers should remember that he also owns MySpace.

Seriously, how many people do you know who'd be disgusted by the above email? And how many of them buy one of Murdoch's rags on a regular basis? Have a word with them. It can't do any harm and it might just do some good.

4 comments:

Don Corleone said...

I'm guessing it's Phil McGuire you're referring to.

CuriousHamster said...

It wasn't Phil McGuire (or any other Aberdeen player).

I'm afraid I won't respond to any other guesses, correct or otherwise. I've played this game before ;o)

The guy just wants to let it lie. That's why I didn't give his name.

mike power said...

It worked in Liverpool. Sun circulation dropped from 200,000 to 12,000 a day after the Hillsborough piece.

Ian said...

Another story which shows the appalling lack of respect the press in this country has for personal privacy.

On the day you referred to as 'Black Thursday' last month, another buried piece of news was the Information Commissioner's report into the use of private detectives by print journalists to 'dig up dirt' (often illegally) about subjects of articles. More here.

I intend to write a full blog post about this story later today - are you happy for me to quote much of your post (with attribution of course) in that?

Ian
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