In the closing weeks of 2006, one of the stories which you'd doubtless been following is the Ipswich serial killer, a (presumed) man who has notched up five murdered woman in an unusually short period. In itself this is tragic development but the issue I'm forced to comment on is the media's coverage of developments and in particular, the BBC.
Tom Stephens is a man in the locality of the murders and who knew and engaged the services of all five dead prostitutes. He hasn't made much of an effort to hide, far be it he's a prime suspect due to his aquaintance with all of the murder victims. I can only speculate that in an effort to be up front and clear his name, that is why he gave the BBC permission to release his name before he was charged for any crime.
He also engaged in an interview which was recorded with the verbal understanding of the BBC to be a background information interview and explictely not for broadcast. The BBC decided that since the man's name came out into the public (more on that later), that it would be in the public's interest to broadcast the interview expressly against his wishes. They did so on the televised news with an emboldend 'BBC EXCLUSIVE' flash across the screen.
Today I find the BBC editors defending their decision on the BBC news editors blog. What is most remarkable is that in the 30-odd comments found on that page, not a single one is buying the BBC's line that this was done in the public's interest.
What is further puzzling to me is that the BBC itself was held in at least one newspaper (Chicago Tribune I believe) as the source concerning releasing Tom Stephen's details. Since they had interviewed him, that doesn't seem inplausible although many newspapers merely claimed 'sources' when it came to outting the man and printing full details including his MySpace web site.
Let's be clear, no newspaper or media outlet should have released his details much less a full interview such as the BBC has. This vacuous claims of being in the public interest don't carry weight with me, the police or any other third party of note in this country. The media have a continued history of acting incredibly irresponsibly and have cost the tax payer large sums in the past due to court cases being abandonned due to the inability to deliver a fair trial free of media influence.
So while the BBC ineptly flounders to justify this action, Suffolk Police are taking no chances and have actually written to the editors of a number of newspapers specifically warning them not to publish the details of a second man arrested in course of the investigation so far.
I think Tom Stephens demonstrated shocking naivety by communicating with any member of the press before seeking legal advice. Nevertheless, the media know full well that their coverage can seriously detriment the feasibility of a fair trial and they firmly ignore this when they act in this way. They have a responsbility to behave correctly and that is especially true of the BBC who we rightly hold to a higher standard than the horrendously politically biased red-top trash. In the past, and indeed this time around also, most of them just point to eachother and say "well they released this information first" as some sort of justification. That's just not good enough and clearly if that's the way this stuff continues in future, that'll be how it always is. A little unwritten rule just to collaborate on such leaks and the media covers it's collective arse.
Enough is enough. It's about time some contempt of court proceedings were issued to the entire blasted lot of these editors and thereby demonstrated once and for all that it is justice which takes precidence here and not some lofty concept of the public interest. Their so-called 'public interest' will not save the lives of further women by apprehending the murderer, only their own ratings. Time to get tough and the BBC would be a damn good place to start.