By Brian Cathcart
The Editors’ Code of Practice for journalists, which the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is supposed to enforce, includes as Clause 5(1): ‘In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively.’
Those wanting to measure how much attention editors of national newspapers pay to this need look no further than the front pages of today’s Daily Mirror, Daily Star and Daily Mail, all of which showed Mick Jagger.
‘MOMENT JAGGER WAS TOLD OF LOVER’S SUICIDE’, declared the Star headline. ‘MICK’S GRIEF: the moment Jagger heard his girlfriend of 13 years had hanged herself’, was the Mirror’s headline. And the Mail had: ‘MOMENT MICK HEARD L’WREN WAS DEAD’.
Supporting text said the photograph of a grim-looking Jagger was taken as the singer left an Australian restaurant after learning of his partner’s death. The Mail, apparently thanks to a member of the restaurant staff, also revealed that he was with his business manager, what they ate and drank and some aspects of the conversation before the news arrived.
Clause 5 of the Editors’ Code is helpfully entitled ‘Intrusion into grief or shock’. If taking a photograph in such circumstances does not constitute ‘intrusion into grief’ it is hard to know what would. And if publishing it on the front page with the words ‘the moment Jagger heard his girlfriend of 13 years had hanged herself’ is not insensitive, it is hard to know what is.
The Mirror, Star and Mail all insist they they know the Editors’ Code and observe it, but of course this is not the case; they routinely ignore the Code when that suits their interests. Indeed the Code and the PCC often function as mere window-dressing to conceal their wrongdoing.
You might say that Mick Jagger is hardly typical, and it is true that he can afford lawyers, PR people and others to defend his privacy. But not all the time, it is clear, and not on this occasion – when he happened to be at his most vulnerable. In such a moment the British press could surely show a little humanity.
And you might ask: if Mick Jagger, with all his resources, can’t have some privacy when he is bereaved, then what hope is there for ordinary people?
One answer to that question can be read here. It is a catalogue of nine separate occasions in just over a year when the Daily Mail intruded into the private grief of ordinary people.
Because of the way the PCC shuffles such offences under the carpet – not one of these was formally logged by the PCC as a breach of Clause 5 – papers are free to do it again and again. And because ordinary people are involved, they are not in a position to kick up a fuss. So it just goes on.