Trial by media?
Embarrassing news for the BBC, Sky and pretty much every newspaper this morning: another man has been arrested in the Ipswich murders case. This means that the man arrested yesterday – Tom Stevens – the man who’s name, face, myspace, past and private conversations have been spattered across our screens yesterday – might not be guilty.
Of course most of us know that an arrest doesn’t automatically mean guilt. But the 24-hour news networks seem to have forgotten that.
Blanket coverage was given to Stevens’ arrest yesterday. We were told his name (in the public domain because of an interview he gave with the Sunday Mirror, not because the police released it), what he did for a living, and the fact he was a regular client of some of the women murdered.
Other that, the only other fact we were told was that he had been arrested.
Technically, they haven’t broken any contempt of court rules: they haven’t outright said he’s guilty.
But the extent of the coverage — the helicopters above Stevens’ house, the reporters outside the front door, the speculation about his life — all give the suggestion that the arrest was hugely significant – i.e. the police have got their man.
And on top of that, the BBC pulled out their trump card yesterday morning. A background interview that Stevens gave to Radio 1 reporter Trudi Barber (of Pete Doherty assault fame) was unveiled to get one over Sky News.
“The interview was for background purposes” we were told, “…but we’ve decided to play it anyway.”
If you promise not to broadcast an interview (before the interview takes place) then you don’t do it. It’s a bit like naming a source when you’ve promised not to.
As Chris Doidge said on his blog yesterday: “the competition between News 24 and Sky News has become so ridiculous that they dare not move away from the story in case they are a nano-second behind the other.”
The press and broadcasters have overstepped the mark on this story. The Sunday Mirror article put the police under immense pressure to arrest Stevens, regardless of their own investigations. The BBC and Sky have given so much air time to the arrest that the investigation could be severely damaged:
If he’s charged, he can easily claim the trial’s been prejudiced by the media; if he’s not charged, it wouldn’t surprise me if his lawyer gave some news editors a call.