Saturday, July 10, 2010

Raoul Moat: When rolling news coverage goes too far

I checked Twitter just before 10 last night and found that my timeline was full of news that something big was going on in Rothbury where Police had been looking for Raoul Moat, the man wanted for the murder of one man and the serious injury of two others.

Way back on Tuesday, when the Police first closed Rothbury down, they politely asked the media not to set up camp there. Well, we rightly have a free press, but we don't always have a sensible one, so every news bulletin has come from the Northumberland town ever since.

Even when the Police had Moat cornered near the river in Rothbury for 6 hours last night, the media conducted live rolling news coverage metres away, as close as they could get to the Police cordon. The noise from all the media crews and the light they needed must have carried to the scene and at least caused background noise. The coverage even took a surreal note with the reported arrival on the scene of an intoxicated Paul Gascoigne.

I couldn't believe the stupidity of the photographer who went and snapped Moat lying on the ground and the Police facing him. In a tense situation like that, his movement, or his noise, could have destabilised things and in the worst case scenario could have cost someone their lives.

It's hard to have too much sympathy for a wifebeating murderer, but he was a human being and the media circus which surrounded his final hours, and days, was inhumane and obscene.

It may also have more serious repercussions as Johann Hari argued yesterday in this excellent article.

If we are ever to see such a situation again, I'd like to see the media report only as much as is necessary to protect the public and otherwise keep schtum until it's over. I won't hold my breath for that.


northernheckler said...

I agree with every word of this - and the Johann Hari article is indeed excellent. The coverage took on bizarre and unintentionally hilarious aspects over the last few days. Paul Gascoigne's intervention being probably the most ridiculous, but only just. It leaves a bad taste behind - I wish they'd put their house in order

Nikki Thomson said...

While I agree with almost everything you say here, I do have some sympathy for Moat - though most of my thoughts are with his family and his victims and their families.

Moat was clearly showing signs of mental illness and emotional distress before he was released from prison. So much so that we are told that fellow inmates informed staff of their concerns about Moat - now that's quite unusual.

Obviously the authorities couldn't have kept him in prison beyond his time, but maybe the probation service should have been informed at the same time as the police. Moat would have had to visit them on the same day as his release from prison, and they may have been able to help. The guy - agreed he wasn't the nicest of men - needed help and early intervention may have prevented him from becoming a killer and ultimately taking his own life.

The media has now ensured that his family and particularly his ex-girlfriend and young child will always be tagged as being associated with him.

This is the third incident in two months where I've despaired of our media and its rolling news agenda. First there were the tragic shootings in Cumbria - again the perpetrator was a man clearly suffering intense emotional turmoil and we learned far more about him and his state of mind than we really needed or had any right to know.

Then there was the Tory MP who threw himself in front of a train whilst having some kind of breakdown. Did we need to know the identity or the fact that he was a relatively unknown Tory MP? I think not.

And I wonder whether what happened in Cumbria somehow planted the germ of an idea into Moat's disturbed mind, thus causing much of the events of the last week to unfold.

The media clearly has an important role to play in helping ensure the safety of citizens caught up in difficult and dangerous situations, and as far as I am aware the local radio and television networks in both Northumberland and Cumbria were very helpful in passing on essential information. But I can't help wondering what useful purpose the national media served.

I would like to see a complete review carried out between the police and media - possibly the Press Complaints Commission - to establish clear boundaries on what the press can and can't report in cases like these.

Brett Gerry said...

What is the real truth behind the public's reaction to Raoul Moat?


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