Sunday, 8 June 2008

Turn the cameras off

Another quiet news day, another stunt and the fourth estate willingly oblige by giving them a national platform.

Today's protest on Harriet Harman's roof shows yet again that the media is complicit in breaking the law by giving groups like Fathers 4 Justice the oxygen of publicity. (I know I'm doing exactly the same, but bare with me on this one.)

If you remember, this was the group that temporarily split-up in 2006 after claims some of its members were considering kidnapping Tony's Blair's son.

As a journalist for more than 16 years, I passionately believe in a free media and the right for people to protest.

But there's something wrong when groups like Fathers 4 Justice can walk onto Sky News and conduct live interviews by breaking and entering into people's homes.

The lead protester on Harriet's roof is Jonathan Stanesby who last climbed onto the roof of family court Judge David Tyzack's home, dressed as Santa Claus. I'm sure he's passionate about his case and those of other fathers in similar positions. But he's breaking the law by scaring innocent people and the media's encouraging him. They might as well have been holding the ladder.

We don't do live interviews with hostage takers so why the hell should we do it with Fathers 4 Justice?

I speak from experience. When Greenpeace, in their infinite wisdom, stormed the house of one of the Kyoto Treaty signatories (smart move guys!) Pauline was terrified. Post 9-11, she feared for her life. The protesters even forced her to give evidence in court so they could maximise the publicity.

As a former BBC Home News Editor myself, I feel very uncomortable about how the media is unwittingly becoming an acomplice in these stunt protests. Will this stunt really lead to a proper and mature discussion about a father's rights? Somehow I doubt it.

It's up to editors of rolling news channels, radio stations and newspapers to seriously consider the moral implications of their actions.

For broadcasters, there should be the briefest of mentions and certainly no live two ways.

By all means report the news. But let's not help them make it.

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