The tabloid press have been remarkably silent regarding the outrage around the Lucy Meadows story. They reported her death with the usual deliberate misgenderings and pictures of her as male. Since then – nothing in the redtops.
One tabloid journalist has put fingers to keyboard and blogged “an alternative view“. In it he quotes the email from Lucy explaining that she’d contacted the Press Complaints Commission on New Years Day to stop the “journalists and photographers” from hanging around outside her home and school. Then later, he defends the press behaviour stating that the story broke on 19 December, and that the harassment could only have lasted two days because nothing further was reported. That takes us to 21 December – not 1 January. So why did Lucy need to phone the PCC on 1 January? The only conclusion is that the harassment did go on for two weeks right across Christmas and the New Year period. And I’ve heard reports that the press came back a couple of days after they were warned away. Why, when nothing was reported?
It’s little things like that which seem to show that accuracy is now of secondary importance to simply selling a titillating story.
Let’s look at another example. On the same day as Lucy’s death was reported, three tabloids also ran pieces on trans people in prisons. One quoted costs at £25,000 each, compared to £45,000 each in the other two. One or other figure must be wrong. I actually believe they’re both wrong. So where did the numbers come from? Not the Ministry of Justice, a representative of which stated at the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity on Tuesday that the MoJ has a policy of not publishing healthcare costs for individuals, even if they monitored them to that level. It’s part of the drip-drip-drip of misinformation.
As Dan Waddell points out in his blog, where was the public interest in outing Lucy? It’s actually a common question: where is the public interest in outing any trans person? Some of the “routine outings” over recent years have included a garage mechanic and a lorry driver. Seriously! It’s not as if trans people are unknown or exotic. Lots of people I talked to when I was transitioning already knew at least one other trans person.
This issue of involuntary outing is problematic. Let’s go back to Lucy. The paper which broke her story was the Accrington Observer – a local paper which will advertise itself in front of newsagents on sandwich boards. The national press doesn’t do this. So people driving around Lucy’s home town would have seen reference to her plastered outside almost every newsagent. The impact of local press on a local community can be far heavier than the nationals swooping in. It’s not just what was written about Lucy, it’s how it was promoted that would have had an effect.
But when you start hearing that parents who were giving positive and supportive comments to Lucy were simply ignored, it’s not just accuracy or public interest – it’s editorialising. A positive decision to promote a certain agenda regardless of the facts.
In fact it becomes exploitation. In trying to drive sales the papers are trying to maximise profits, irrespective of the cost to those involved in the story. Was Lucy paid anything at all for her part in the expose? I seriously doubt it. So what’s in it for the survivors of this press abuse? Because abuse is what it is.
A free press is important to a functioning democracy. The vast majority of our press is in the hands of a few, very rich people. The idea of a multiplicity of viewpoints being freely disseminated provoking public discussion isn’t borne out by the facts. Where are the positive stories featuring trans people in the tabloids’ news pages? There is a solid line of misrepresentation – and it feels as if it’s becoming ever more aggressive.
There is a massive disconnect at the moment between politicians and the electorate. I’ve communicated with a fair few MPs from all parties over the past week and a half. While I may disagree with their philosophy I’ve not yet had any response back that has not been supportive. Where is this view of politicians being only in it for themselves coming from? The media’s standpoint now appears to be that once a statement of opinion has been made it cannot be changed. The effect – politicians become very wary of answering questions. Stimulating public debate? Don’t think so. It seems more like stifling public debate.
Leveson reported with an assumption that the press was fundamentally a force for good in society. On its day it can be. However I’m beginning to question that assumption.