Coffee House

Should we treat phone hacking victims as experts on press regulation?

2 December 2012

Much of the response to the Leveson Inquiry has focused on the disappointment of the victims of phone hacking and other intrusions by the press that David Cameron is opposed to introducing statutory underpinning for a new system of newspaper regulation. But how much can victims tell us about how to change a system? In an article for the Spectator in May, Carol Sarler argued that it was unwise to treat victims of tragedy as universal sages. Sarler pointed to the way Sara Payne and Denise Fergus were often called to back certain laws in an ‘automatic elevation of “victim” to “expert”‘. She wrote:

It really is no surprise to learn that Sara Payne favours restrictions to keep online pornography away from children. There cannot, after all, be a sentient adult who would not prefer our babies to spend more time with Peppa Pig than with Swedish Dolls. But although you and I might think that internet service providers should stick their greed where the sign don’t shine, our thoughts would not make headlines like last week’s: ‘Sara Payne backs call to block online porn’ — headlines which, given a moment’s thought, can only invite the question, well, so what?

This is a woman who knows a great deal more than we do about things that we must pray we never know better. The anguish when her eight-year-old daughter Sarah was abducted and killed, in 2000, is beyond our paltry imaginings, while her subsequent stoicism — surviving, as it has, a broken marriage and a debilitating stroke — puts to shame our own feeble whimpers. Nevertheless, I’ll wager that she knows no more than any other amateur about pre-pubescent synapses, the cause and effect of commercially sexual filth — or, come to that, about anything much concerning the various campaigns that she has been asked to ‘back’ or ‘call for’ since Sarah’s death.

It might perhaps afford Mrs Payne some small comfort to be so used (she probably calls it ‘useful’), and about that we mustn’t carp. It is not, however, Sarah’s personal tragedy that her mother’s high profile represents: it is just an example of a peculiar trend which promotes the automatic elevation of ‘victim’ to ‘expert’.

Also last week we heard from Denise Fergus, the mother of James Bulger who was murdered by two other children in 1993. This time she was quoted on ‘sickos’ who enjoy ‘trolling’ — the posting of inflammatory messages on internet sites, a nasty practice with which, to be fair, she has been fleetingly targeted. But this is only one among many contributions Mrs Fergus has made to national debate and always, again, without knowledge or qualification. She waded in recently, for instance, when the Children’s Commissioner for England presented a well-researched, if controversial, opinion that the criminal age of responsibility should be raised from ten to 12.

Mrs Fergus didn’t like this. Well, of course she didn’t like it; her son was killed by ten-year-olds, and even now she has close supporters who have openly vowed that if they could get their hands on them they would ‘see justice done’. But that is precisely why we have the social contract of law and order, whereby we remove the machinery of justice from those emotionally unequipped to handle it. Why, then, was media space given to Mrs Fergus’s passionate but nonsensical view that the Commissioner ‘owes me and James an apology’?

As the victims of phone hacking call for statutory underpinning, believing it is the only way similar abuses can be avoided in the future, you can re-read Sarler’s argument here.

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  • sheila edwards

    this celebrity victim role that seems to be on trend is frightening even more now going into expert advise roles.

  • Jimmy R

    What amuses me is that the vast majority of the alleged victims who are making most noise about how badly they were treated are only squawking because the press reported things which didn’t originate from the carefully polished images their PR Machines had prepared and handed to their publicity agents or their favoured sychophantic hacks.

    Some of them were not only happy, but actively encouraged, the vilification of other totally innocent people provided it ensured they kept their self-induced high profiles and image of saintly victims but didn’t like it when the tables were turned on them.

    Several of the “victims” were simply using the phone hacking enquiry to seek revenge for having tried to manipulate the press and come unstuck and others for what was nothing less spiteful political vengeance for having had their total incompetence, and/or sleazy behaviour quite rightly made known to the public, some even hiding behind protection of Parliamentary Privilege to spout their malice and intentional misinformation.

  • nick porter

    How many libel trials must the press loose before they understand the law of libel.
    If they haven’t managed that yet, there opinion on self regulation isn’t worth having

  • Ronald Duncan

    A more sensible argument is that TV should be freed from Ofcom it has much greater influence and is also going bust, NOT because it is a dying industry but because it is over regulated and not free to advertise and innovate.

    The press is dying and needs to move online and get back to reporting news rather than providing poor commentary and spreading strife in the name of debate. (its called trolling on the internet).

  • Ronald Duncan

    It has to be said that victims that then campaign for a change in the law generally end up as well informed as specialists in the area, and much much better informed than the appallingly clueless press. The victims that are sensible and informed often succeed in getting good law passed those that are not are ignored.

    Just because you have been told to tidy up your pig sty, and find it incompatible with continuing to lie and be generally clueless and lazy. Slagging off the victims as a way of deflecting blame is not attractive.

    Try being professional in future, and pointing out when your profession is unprofessional.

  • Julian the wonderhorse

    Hacking dead children’s phones, harassing people and impersonating policemen and obtaining property by deception are all offences covered by law. The debate should be why the police did nothing on this, not “we need one more law”. And the fallacy that we have freedom of speech is just that: false. Super injunction anyone?

  • David Lindsay

    This is going to happen.

    There is Commons majority, with or without Cameron.

    Get over it.

  • HooksLaw

    This article seems to be an argument for saying how useless the press are for giving ‘the oxygen of publicity’ to victims.
    Its the press themselves who give the victims the platform. next the victims are told to mind their own business.

    But after all of this – hells teeth, who would be a victim in Britain? Suffer in silence, keep your gob shut.
    Can the press make up their mind? One minute they are using the victims as convenient headline fodder to drum up business but it the victims get to mouthy they drum up business by attacking them.

  • Daniel Maris

    That’s a bit daring for the Spectator. An article critical of victim celebrity culture with Kate McCann in the middle of the pic.

    Next, you might actually start asking some real questions about the Met Police “investigation” – current cost c£50million??

  • eeore

    You might ask why skeletal Africans are used for charity appeals.

    It’s an easy shorthand to hang a story upon.

    • HooksLaw

      They are starving to death is why.
      But your point is valid. The press use victims. The victims have worked this out – which is of course why they are angry.
      Victims being upset does not however mitigate the actions of the media, nor mean that action is not justified.

      • Dimoto

        How much compensation do the starving African children get from the lovable charities, for all those lingering, pornographic, deeply intrusive clips ?

  • Troika21

    No, victims are not ‘experts’. But the tabloid press has done much to make ‘victim’ a catch-all for resentment at failures in the justice system and police, and automatically being someone worth listening to.

    They’ve shot themselves in the foot, and I don’t have much sympathy.

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      Surely it goes back further than that. Socialist encouragement of victim-hood and the entitlement society has helped proliferate this nonsense.

  • Steven Efstathiou

    Ever since Murdoch turned The Sun into a tabloid, the whole of British society has suffered – as journalism embarked on a race to the gutter. So are the citizens of this country in any way qualified to call for Leveson to be implemented in full? Not at all, according to the offending journalists. You couldn’t make it up…

  • David Lindsay

    The hysteria of bullies to whom someone has finally stood up continues apace, I see. Miliband has called this right: winning elections now means siding against the lawless, sadistic, sociopathic, foreign, pseudo-Tory press. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

    However, get beyond the (largely foreign) corporate giants with the broadcasters (the largest of which is also foreign – yes, that means Sky, not the BBC) and the politicians in their pockets, and the Parliamentary Lobby lists 53 of what are therefore State-licensed print newspapers and magazines.

    The most diverse press in the world, based on that list. That list of State licensees, most of which would probably or certainly not survive the loss of such State licensing. The thing is that we are never allowed to hear from most of them.

    There is already the Parliamentary Lobby. This is already the registration of newspapers with the Post Office. There is already publication by limited companies and by trusts, both of which are defined in, and regulated pursuant to, the Statute Law. What is all the fuss about?

    But, of course, what has become of Toryism stands exposed again: a vicious hostility to all civic life and institutions, including Parliament, and therefore to all public activity apart from wars for Israel.

    • Wessex Man

      Get a life you old moaner!

    • Colonel Mustard

      Yes, I think being a Tory should be criminalised and definitely not allowed to raise or foster children. After all it is only a short step away from being a paedophile and with a one party state a government as determined to force legislation through the HoC as Ed could get so much done – all for our own good of course.

      • David Lindsay

        At least 40, and possibly 70, Tories are going to vote to implement Leveson in full.

    • eeore

      The parliamentary lobby is registered for reasons of access to the building and the facilities. Likewise newspapers are registered with the post office for reasons of distribution and carriage rates. Limited companies and trusts are registered for reasons of tax, and legal liability.

      None of this relates to what may be printed or said (within in legal constraints).

      • David Lindsay

        If you believe that…

        Parliament can say no, including after it has said yes. As can the Post Office. Companies and trusts can be got rid of. And so on.

        • eeore

          If I believe what?

          As for the Post Office, Companies and Trusts etc, yes they can be got rid of, but they can in any industry or business, and it has nothing to do with the subject under discussion.

          • David Lindsay

            It has everything to do with it. You are just naive.

            • eeore

              You say it does, but have offered no explanation as to why.

              • David Lindsay

                If you need one, then there is no point giving you one. What are you, 12?

                • eeore

                  No, but I am beginning to suspect you are.

  • David B

    I note today Ed has warned David Cameron that if he does not agree with him he will try and force legislation through HOC. Why do I feel unconfortable that if he ever becomes PM that he will be saying that to newspaper editors and business people regularly

    • David Lindsay

      Why would that make you uncomfortable? What sort of Prime Minister would you prefer? One who just did as he was told by “newspaper editors and business people”? One whose only motivation was his sex life? That is what we have now.

      • eeore

        His sex life?

        • David Lindsay

          As Hamlet might have put it, his country suppers.

          • eeore

            I am aware of the concept of poking the fire, I am querying your assertion that it is his only motivation.

            • David Lindsay

              What else is there?

              If he were not poking the fire, then the only votes against this would be those of a few Murdoch loyalist MPs, a position with a wide range of policy implications and all of them thoroughly pernicious, whom both parties could thus identify in order to deselect them.

              Probably not 50 in the entire House. Certainly not 100. And certainly not including the Prime Minister, of all people.

              But instead, we have this. We can all see why.

              • eeore

                That perhaps explains why the inquiry was commissioned.

                But it does not say anything about Murdoch, or the current situation.

            • Fergus Pickering

              Are you saying that Cameron had a sexual relationship with Rebekah Brooks? What proof have you of this? If you have none then that is surely defamatory and Cameron, and Mrs Brooks, should sue. Do you have deep pockets, Lindsay?

              • David Lindsay

                I am not going to need them.

                I have said out explicitly on here and elsewhere on numerous occasions. I am not the only one. It is an established fact.

                • 2trueblue

                  Gossip is now a way of establishing facts?

                • David Lindsay

                  You are confusing me with the anti-Leveson crowd. That question ought to be addressed to them.

                • 2trueblue

                  Not really, look at what you wrote.

                • Fergus Pickering

                  What is an established fact, Lindsay? Tell me what is an established fact? Spell it out for us..

              • HooksLaw

                He has a big mouth.
                Its Blair who had the cosy evening date with Wade, as she then was, whilst his wife was on her way to Rome.

                • MirthaTidville

                  Well yes this scenario one could well understand….Sending Cherie anywhere would be a bonus

      • The Crunge

        Do you ever say anything which is carefully considered, balanced and sensible? I am sick of your fact free sloganising and gratuitous insulting of people of whom you know nothing debasing what might possibly be a sensible debate. Hook yourself up to a friendly socialist web site where you can share your unsubstantiated and frankly paranoid views with your fellow travellers. Please leave sensible debate to adults.

      • David B

        I would prefer a prime minister who is held to account for his actions not one that has his attack dogs managing press rations to ensure stories are reported to avoid critism of him

        I want a PM that has not worked a day of his life in the private sector to realise he does not know how to pick winners and loosers in business

        Most of all I want a PM to realise that being popular is not the most important thing. We tried that already and it failed. A PM must make decisions in the long term interests of the country and not for his short term poll ratings. There is a simple maxim “the road to hell is paved with good intensions” and Ed is policy decision by good intensions.

    • 2trueblue

      Because it is a strong possibility that this would be the case.

  • HFC

    Your picture caption implies that there may be some who value the judgement of Kate McCann on this matter.

    Let’s remember it was her judgement that her three infant children should be left alone while she supped with her husband and friends in a restaurant at some distance from the kids bedroom and now it is only because one of her children went missing that she is now thought to have any views on the matter.

    Strange world we live in.

    • Austin Barry

      For the McCanns the prospect of drinking and dining with tacitly unconcerned chums trumped parental responsibilities. Now they wish to lecture us on Press responsibility.

      They should just stay out of the spotlight and ponder the real meaning of the duty of care.

      • telemachus

        I do not apologise for reproducing again this superb and sensitive Ossitt post

        “The father of Madeleine McCann is now busy on the television and on the radio demanding that the prime minister accept the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry in full.

        He and his wife two educated people, both doctors; had left Madeleine who was not quite four years old and her two, two year old twin siblings alone in the bedroom of a ground-floor holiday flat whilst they ate dinner with a party of seven friends at a local restaurant some 130 yards from this holiday flat, this occurred on the 3rd May 2007.

        From the outset this case filled me with very mixed emotions, on the one hand as a parent of three, I could well understand and have empathy with their grieve and pain at the loss of their young daughter but I was also extremely angry that two highly intelligent high earning individuals had not better protected their children, either by paying for a baby sitter ( a baby sitting service and a crèche were available) or else taking it in turns to stay with the children alternating each and every hour or even to take the children with them.

        All children are precious, infants and babies are doubly so, the sad fact that they left these infants alone and unprotected, at best shows a gross dereliction of their duty and at worst wilful criminal negligence.

        Had this occurred in the UK and if all of the children were in fact safe and sound then the McCann’s would have been as guilty of criminal neglect as would be the council housed, drug taking single parent who leaves her brood to obtain her ‘fix’.

        None of us can ever know the full truth about this sad event but I am sure of two things, it is my belief that the parents feel the guilt to their very core of their being, they then used the press in their attempt to find the child but only on terms that they would try to dictate much of this as a way of easing their feelings of guilt.

        Sadly for them it will never be over, the young siblings when they come of age might well ask, why? Did you value us so little?

        I for one, do not want the McCann’s; or any of the other high profile individuals who now rant and rave demanding that the press be regulated, to be the cause of our free press loosing one scintilla of that hard won freedom”

        • sheila edwards

          I agree and mccanns have just been on tv saying normal to let 8 yr olds go to sleepovers etc ! is it just me. this celebrity victim expert roles was not helped with the leveson enquiry elevating the victim role and more of attention they seem to crave and create will not help.

      • Jupiter

        There was something very fishy about what happened to their kid….

        • HooksLaw

          Like what?

    • Daniel Maris

      Even stranger when you realise the kids’ bedroom was in the front (not the back, looking onto the restaurant, as most assume) and the back door was, they say, left open.
      Still we all know the Portugese Police are swarthy, bumbling, bar-lingering fools, so that’s OK then. Nothing to see here…move along please.

  • HFC

    Let me think. Ah, yes phone hacking victims translates to ‘people whose mobile phone messge boxes were unprotected by the simple expedient of setting a passcode’. Yes, that’s it.

  • Colonel Mustard

    In a word – no.

  • Kevin

    “that is precisely why we have the social contract of law and order”

    If Sarler can show Sara Payne and Denise Fergus where they signed this alleged “contract” then she might have a point.

    I guess “amateurs” should not be allowed to expound on political philosophy either.

    • Colonel Mustard

      “I guess “amateurs” should not be allowed to expound on political philosophy either.”

      No, because there is a difference between an individually expressed opinion and a pressure group agenda fronting high-profile victims in order to influence public opinion and government.

  • In2minds

    On the one hand we have phone hacking and on the other the Draft
    Communications Data bill. This is now hidden by the uproar created by
    the Leveson report. If allowed to become law the whole population
    will be snooped upon. The idea we can trust government but not the
    press is foolish. In fact this bill reinforces the rotten celeb
    culture as there will be a ‘white list’ of the high-and-mighty who
    will not be targets of this intrusion.

    • telemachus

      You are confused
      Or perhaps you want to obfuscate
      The reason we need the communications data bill is to get at the paedophiles and terrorists in our midst
      Likewise the Leveson bill will cleanse us from the snakes of the press
      Both are necessary to improve our broken society

    • ButcombeMan

      “If allowed to become law the whole population will be snooped upon”.

      Simply hysterical rubbish. You are as barmy on this point, as Shami.

      Electronic contact data, retained for access during a 12 month period-over all methods of electronic contact-is no more than available now (and historically over decades) from most telecoms providers, the proposal standardises across the industry.

      Actually there is lots of mention of electronic contact data in Levison. It is how the cases were/are, being cracked. It protects the innocent as well as convicting the guilty.,

      • telemachus

        you too are confused and miss most points
        It is proactive security access to these data that will protect us

  • William Blakes Ghost

    Of course not. All of us suffer unwelcome and unlawful intrusions into our lives (the Government is far more guilty of this in general than the media) but only a few preening whining egotistical narcissists think that that gives them the right to put themselves above the people of this country and the core principles that uphold our democracy.

    They had their day in court and more. Most have got a nice big fat compensation cheques as well. Something others who suffer far greater injustices don’t. Its about time they shut the f*ck up and got on with their lives. There is a point where victimhood becomes offensive and annoying and Grant and co passed that point a long time ago!

    I do have sympathy for the Dowlers though because not only did they suffer the initial outrageous intrusions of the media on top of the tragedy that brought them to the world attention but they have now been used and abused by politicians for propaganda purposes. God knows how they must feel.

    • Austin Barry

      Hugh Grant did his best to bring inter-racial understanding and investment to a rundown part of West Hollywood. His views should be respected.

      • Daniel Maris

        I guess the cynics here will say “that sucks”.

        But he also took pity on an out of work actress, who was in such a bad way she had to keep her clothing together with safety pins, and helped elevate her to international stardom, in an act of selfless vanity sorry I mean, charity. There was nothing in it for him except the opportunity to have carnal relations with probably the most beautiful woman in Britain.

        • telemachus

          Read Fatmammycat’s blog
          Hugh Grant Moral Compass of the world

    • telemachus

      Just because the principle of victim power is wrong it does not excuse Cameron’s disgraceful stance in favour of his criminal friends Brooks and Coulson and their masters
      I am a little surprised that Speccie has got into bed with this view

      • ButcombeMan

        Take care. It is unwise and plain silly to carelessly label people as criminals, who are before the Courts-in advance of their trial.

        Not wise at all.

        • ButcombeMan

          I shoud make clear-for the future understanding of telemachus, that he made unwise remarks which have now been edited out. The man is an absolute prat, of the first order. He is lucky not to be before a judge for contempt.

          Never to be taken seriously. Rather like Ed Balls.

      • eeore

        But who was in power when the alleged crimes were committed?

        And the initial police investigation seemed to follow a familiar pattern – cash for honours, mortgage irregularities, bundles of cash on the A1 etc.

        • telemachus

          Cameron is a man of little populist touch and given his friends and associates, little common sense

    • 2trueblue

      Absolutely. The fact that you have endured something does not mean you have a definitive knowledge in the area. Scary if that became accepted.

    • Dimoto

      Why no photo’ of Max Mosley, I wonder.
      I understood he was the leading light of hacked-off ?

    • jaysspectator

      Couldn’t agree more.

  • Pat

    Good to see that whoever wrote this blog isn’t happy to put their name to it.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Why is that good?

  • Archimedes

    Yes, we should – in much the same way that Question Time audiences can be considered experts on matters of economics, defence and the EU.

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