Amol Rajan: A return to honest reporting is overdue

 

Share

"The smears were so extensive, there will be always be people who don't know me", Chris Jefferies told the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, "who will retain the impression I am some sort of very weird character who is best avoided." He added he "will never fully recover from the events" or their "incalculable" effect on him.

By 'events', Mr Jefferies, a retired teacher, was referring to the week-long persecution he suffered at the hands of our press. In seeking a culprit for Joanna Yeates' murder, they alighted on the landlord with the funny hair. His fault, I guess, for impersonating Emmett Brown, the mad doctor in Back to the Future; but front pages like The Sun's "The Strange Mr Jefferies – Kids' nickname for ex-teacher suspect" were a bit much, on reflection. Or The Daily Mirror: "Jo suspect is Peeping Tom". Or the Daily Star: "Jo landlord a creep who freaked out schoolgirls".

On my first foreign assignment as a reporter a few years back, I was sent to Portugal to cover the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. By the time I turned up in Praia da Luz, the only story in town was "Is Robert Murat guilty?". The friend of the McCann's had received the same treatment as Mr Jefferies. A Daily Mail double-page spread set the agenda: "Oddball of the Algarve". The story is still online, with a picture caption reading: "Suspect or scapegoat? Robert Murat claims he will not live unless Madeleine's true abductor is captured – is it all a pretence?" Well, is it?

In his cogent, scathing testimony to Leveson last week, Hugh Grant detailed the harassment not just of Tinglan Hong, the mother of his child, but also Ms Hong's elderly mother. Her ordeal, like that of Jefferies and Murat, show that the need for exclusives now routinely leads not just to blatant invention and deceit of readers, but unforgivable persecution of the innocent.

Tabloid journalism – a British invention – used to be one of the things that made our country great. My hero, Hugh Cudlipp, edited a Daily Mirror whose slogan was "Forward with the People". It was a tribune of the poor. Then Rupert Murdoch hijacked that slogan for The Sun, after the Mirror dropped it. With that seminal moment in Britain's post-war history, tabloids began to elevate the commercial interests of their owners above a commitment to honest reporting.

Our free press is too precious to let Sir Brian Leveson put its regulation in the hands of the state. But the bullying of Jefferies, Murat, Hong and many others risks doing just that. In more ways than one, tabloid instincts are taking our country to the gutter.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Y1 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Y1 Teacher required for a So...

Senior Financial Services Associate - City

Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - FINANCIAL SERVICES - Senior...

Residential Property

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Residential Conveyancer - Wiltshire We have a...

Y5 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Long term position for a KS2...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An independent Scotland might find itself unable to guarantee the deposits of savers in the event of another financial crisis, the Treasury has warned  

Scottish referendum: this will give Scotland’s economy an immediate bounce

Hamish McRae
 

Scottish referendum results: A change is gonna come – it’s GOT to come

James Bloodworth
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week