A rather nasty anti-journalist tendency which has been simmering on social media manifested itself on the streets of London this week in the form of physical attacks on reporters.
An Australian Nine News reporter Sophie Walsh was grabbed live on air, another was chased down the street, and outside Downing Street journalists were hounded by protesters perversely shouting “fuck the Daily Mail”.
We were lucky that a freelance photographer was not more seriously hurt after being bottled and knocked out. He said there were “a lot of people baying for blood, saying ‘he’s Daily Mail, he deserved it'”.
It seems that pent up frustrations felt during three long months of lockdown are erupting into incidents of shooting the messengers who have been charged with sharing so much bad news.
How ironic that protesters at a Black Lives Matter protest should single out the Daily Mail – the paper which fought for years to secure justice for Stephen Lawrence, the young man killed in 1993 in the UK’s most notorious racially motivated attack.
The paper provokes visceral hatred from those on the left because of its role helping to secure Britain’s exit from the European Union with a strategy that at times blurred the lines between journalism and propaganda.
But former editor Paul Dacre also risked his own liberty with a 1997 front-page that photographed and named Stephen’s alleged killers and called them “murderers”.
The financial risk of being sued for libel was tangible, but the story was also potentially contempt of court which is a criminal offence for which the editor is personally liable.
Journalism is almost by definition imperfect. It is the first draft of history, produced to deadline with limited resources to the best of our abilities.
Yes journalists get things wrong (I felt it important that Press Gazette point out the charge of hypocrisy that our industry left itself open to when journalists breached social distancing rules in the clamour to interview and photograph Dominic Cummings).
But overall this pandemic has highlighted more clearly than ever before the vital role of the so-called #scummedia in holding government to account during the most perilous period our country has faced since the Second World War.
The best examples are highlighted here by Press Gazette in our Coronavirus Journalism Excellence Survey. If you would like to recommend any examples of great journalism during the pandemic please to so here before the final deadline of Sunday night.
They include the vital role of journalists in:
- highlighting PPE shortages
- exposing the hypocrisy of leaders and advisers flouting the social distancing rules they helped impose
- revealing the extent of the death toll ripping through care homes
- and dissecting the mistakes which have led to the UK having possibly the highest per capita death rate from coronavirus of any country in the world.
Journalists have done all this while, in many cases, taking pay cuts and picking up extra work from colleagues who have been furloughed.
They’ve also universally taken great pains to ensure the information they share is based on evidence and not hearsay.
And journalists have played a huge role binding communities together by highlighting the keyworkers who have kept the country going – especially at a local level. Without the news media it is doubtful that Captain Tom’s fundraising efforts would have been anything like as successful.
In many ways the growth of online media has democratised journalism and made it more accountable. We are all probably far better informed than ever before as a result.
But the total lack of regulation and accountability for the UK’s biggest media companies – the online platforms – has allowed toxic misinformation to spread and I fear the current attacks on journalists are a symptom of this.
Based on our industry’s performance during the coronavirus crisis I for one am proud to be part of what some call the #scummedia.