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Thursday, July 17, 2008 

A system unchanged by scandals part three.

Robert Murat got his day in court and £600,000 in damages, but even he must be wondering whether it will change the way that the tabloid press in this country operates. Looking at the Sun and Daily Mail websites tonight, neither has mentioned the settlement announced in the high court. The only mention the Sun has made of any sort of settlement being reached is contained in a "Staff Reporter" story from Tuesday which doesn't mention that the Sun itself or the News of the World have agreed to pay him damages.

With damages to Murat of £600,000, six figure payouts to two of his acquaintances whose names were also dragged through the mud, and overall legal costs, Roy Greenslade estimates that it will have cost the four groups, Express Newspapers, the Mirror Group, Associated Newspapers and News International in the region of £100,000 per paper. Again, in the long run, we're talking of peanuts here. These are still peanuts which will have to be accounted for, and who knows, some employees may well lose their jobs as a result of the costs. That won't however stop any one of these newspapers from smearing individuals in exactly the same way as they did Murat. As elucidated before, it's far too profitable and the negatives are too few to make them think twice before declaring on their front pages that a man is a paedophile or that a missing girl DEFINITELY WAS in that man's villa.

Greenslade mentions that the dedicated legal teams on each paper has to take some of the blame. I'd agree, but I think the real blame lies with one individual only: the editor. They are the ones who decide what and what isn't ultimately printed, and each one in this instance thought that it was perfectly acceptable to print libel about a man whose only crime was wanting to help the police find the little girl that had gone missing close to where he lived. Here then is a roll call of shame: Rebekah Wade; the Sun. Colin Myler; News of the World. Paul Dacre; Daily Mail. Veronica Wadley; Evening Standard. Kenny Campbell; Metro. Richard Wallace; Daily Mirror. Tina Weaver; Sunday Mirror. Bruce Waddell; Daily Record. Peter Hill; Daily Express. Martin Townsend; Sunday Express. Dawn Neesom; Daily Star.

The other main reason why this will have no effect whatsoever on it happening again is that the newspapers have hardly even acknowledged that they've done anything wrong. The only way to make anyone take notice on these occasions when such repeated and hysterical libel has been committed is for the newspaper to be forced to print the apology on its front page, like the Express and Star both did after the action by the McCanns. Having seen the Daily Mirror and Sun front pages tomorrow, neither so much as mentions Murat. The Sun even has a story claiming that the McCanns are about to be cleared, just to rub it into Murat that he'd have more luck trying to get blood out of a stone than forcing a tabloid newspaper to own up to its errors.

If anything therefore ought to put the final nail in the coffin of the myth of self-regulation this ought to be it. Tina Weaver for example sits on the Press Complaint Commission's main board which decides on the cases brought before it for adjudication, while Paul Dacre is the chairman of the code committee! Digitagit summed it up very nicely in the comments on another Greenslade piece:

As with the Mosley case, the toxic combination of greed, vanity, self-importance, affected outrage and false morality is a trait common to all our popular press and is just repulsive beyond belief.

Indeed. These self-same newspapers preach at us day in and day out about law and order, respect and morals, and when it comes down to it, they are just as guilty if not more so than anyone else in society. Only a complaints body with genuine teeth, that could perhaps stop a newspaper from publishing for one day when they commit such outrageous libel, or which personally fines editors or proprietors like Ofcom does could potentially stop this rot.

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