The heart-rending images of the body of little Aylan al-Kurdi, face down in the shallows on a Turkish beach, were too strong for some stomachs.
Nine people complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) about a front page treatment by The Independent, in which Aylan’s face was visible as a Turkish official looked helplessly on. “Somebody’s child”, was the simple headline, above the question: “Do we really believe this is not our problem?”
The one hope is that this awful picture will have the power to transform Government policy, in the way other haunting photographs have before. One thinks of Kevin Carter’s horrible picture of a vulture stalking a stricken and emaciated baby girl in Sudan, or AP photographer Nick Ut’s shot of nine-year-old Vietnamese girl Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running down a road, tearful and terrified in the wake of a napalm attack. They are the stuff of nightmares but can be agents of change, as aid organisations have come to understand.
Aylan’s legacy was almost immediate. By the following morning The Daily Telegraph was reporting the Prime Minister’s intention to take more Syrian refugees, The Mail was running the headline “They Slipped Through My Hands” above emotion-filled reportage on the tragedy of Aylan’s father Abdullah, who lost his wife and sons as a dinghy capsized. The Sun launched a “Crisis Campaign” called “For Aylan”. Those who have fought to highlight the plight of refugees were stunned at the volte-face of papers whose previous approach to the subject has been one of implacable hostility.
It was a reminder of the enduring power of the still image in the digital age.
Yet still some people ran to Ipso, just as they did when newspapers carried photographs of the fireball that engulfed the Shoreham airshow last month. Numerous people objected that the pictures were too graphic or that the vehicles of victims of the disaster were identifiable because of a lack of pixelation. But none of them were grieving relatives, they were simply making editorial judgments on what they thought offensive.
So Ipso, which celebrates its first anniversary on 8 September, will not act on those complaints. Neither will it intervene against The Independent over the Aylan front page, for the simple reason that the title and its sister i paper are not signed up to the regulator. A year after Ipso replaced the discredited Press Complaints Commission as a direct response to the hacking scandal, a huge chunk of the written media is still unanswerable to it. That includes The Guardian, the Financial Times and the London Evening Standard, along with Private Eye and significant online news operations such as The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed.
And as a birthday present which Ipso could probably have done without, Rebekah Brooks, the former News of the World editor and chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspapers at the time of the hacking affair, has walked back into her old job. News UK has been one of the key architects of Ipso, together with the publishers of the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. Arguments that it was the creation of the Tory press were previously countered with the observation that the Mirror papers were also inside the tent. That’s the same Daily Mirror that has become the new epicentre of the hacking investigation.
It’s not an ideal state of affairs.
Outside the new Ipso headquarters at the top of Fleet Street in London, Steve Coogan is set to lead a protest by the press reform group Hacked Off, which argues that the body falls well short of what Lord Justice Leveson had in mind when he concluded his long inquiry.
The unhappiness does not end there. Tony Blair has reacted impetuously to the rejection of his complaint that The Daily Mail misrepresented a conversation he had with Commons speaker John Bercow. The former Prime Minister, who declined a minor correction in the paper and insisted on an adjudication, described Ipso’s rejection of his case as a “major failure”.
Blair has never impressed as a champion of free journalism, cravenly seeking support from the Murdoch papers at the start of his time in power before levelling his “feral beasts” insult at papers on his departure from Downing Street, when he singled out The Independent for criticism rather than the more powerful media forces that hounded him.
I’m more interested in the treatment of the Northern Irish vicar who found himself the subject of an outrageous headline in the Sunday Life: “Tyrone cleric baffled by false gay rumours.” It’s the kind of snide journalism that should have ended decades ago. The clergyman expressed bafflement only after being contacted by the paper, which also related more false rumours that he’d been given a police caution, and noted that he had three children. Ipso rightly upheld his complaint.
The regulator, led by chairman and former judge Sir Alan Moses, is still considering the launch of an arbitration system and has yet to deploy its much-promised investigative powers. But it has made several significant rulings in its first 12 months, suggesting it’s not a patsy of the papers that pay for it.
The Daily Telegraph’s reporting of a leaked memo claiming Nicola Sturgeon wished for a David Cameron victory in the General Election led to the paper being held in breach of the Editors’ Code for its failure to contact the First Minister for Scotland before publication. It spoiled what could have been a fine scoop. The Telegraph made a reference to the Ipso finding on its front page, where the story first appeared.
The iconoclastic Sun columnist Rod Liddle was forced to give space on his page to a substantial Ipso adjudication after making a tasteless joke about Emily Brothers, who is blind and transgender. The correction was far larger than the original item – although Ms Brothers was unhappy that it lacked a headline and angry that the columnist made a second attack on her in which he obliquely referenced her original male name.
Hacked Off is unconvinced that even these remedies are sufficient. It’s unlikely that Ipso could ever please Hugh Grant and friends. But those working in the newspaper industry recognise that visible change is occurring. Ipso is in dialogue with other publishers to achieve the expanded ambit on which its long-term credibility depends.
The rival IMPRESS system is seeking recognition under the Royal Charter which Ipso shuns. It is admired by Hacked Off but ignored by the press.
In total, The Independent received 22 complaints over its Aylan front page. Some thought it was a cynical gesture to evoke sympathy for refugees, while others were angry that the ambience of their supermarket shop was disturbed by a shocking reminder of human suffering on a distant shore. Newspaper readers deserve somewhere trustworthy to take their complaints but that’s not to say that their grievances will always be legitimate ones.
Shoreditch becomes too high-end for Tech City
Not long ago the Government was flying in the cream of Silicon Valley to experience the grimy wonders of London’s Shoreditch, the chosen creative hub of digital Britain.
The neighbourhood was dubbed “Tech City”, with its centre located at the Old Street gyratory system (rebranded Silicon Roundabout) and championed by the internet security minister, Baroness Shields.
But a three-year study by Edward Jones, a researcher at University College London, finds the madness of the capital’s property market is playing havoc with the start-up ecosystem the initiative sought to propagate. When tech companies look to expand, they cannot make the rent.
Start-ups are basing themselves in more distant quarters, such as Peckham, and migrating to Tech City only for networking events and meetings. This was something Britain’s other tech hubs warned about when the Government decided to focus attention on central London.
It was inevitable that an area known for artists and clubbing but on the doorstep of the Square Mile would succumb to the gentrification of residential property speculators. “Five or 10 years ago, it was seen as edgy, but sites are now being developed for high-end residential developments,” says Jones.
South Korea’s got talent for reality TV
Rebecca Yang is perfectly placed at the intersection of the British and Chinese television markets.
After co-founding entertainment rights distributor IPCN with a former ITV executive in 2007, she now runs the company herself from London, Shanghai and Beijing with investment from a Chinese state-supported equity fund.
IPCN brokered deals for Chinese versions of numerous British formats, including China’s Got Talent and Supernanny. Making the latter was challenging because of China’s one-child policy, says Yang. The investment will help IPCN make original content for Chinese audiences.
After hopes that the burgeoning Chinese middle class would provide opportunities for British lifestyle shows, Yang says the energy has changed. “In the last two years European formats have stalled and South Korean formats have taken off,” she says. Travel with Dad, in which celebrities holiday with their fathers, is a Korean hit in China. I can’t see it working here, but they said that about Japanese game shows in the days before I’m A Celebrity.
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