Conflict in Communication – Media Misrepresentation

‘Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.’  

This quote is taken from the Code of Conduct for journalists as set out by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), however is this a set rule or simply a guideline that is often over looked?

Christopher-Jefferies-007Bearing this in mind I want to raise the case study of Christopher Jefferies, an innocent man wrongly accused for involvement in Joanna Yeates’ murder. Not only was Jefferies accused of murder but was also vilified by the press through harassment, false accusations, and out-right lies.

Even after Jefferies was released on bail the media continued to publish articles that included ‘‘seriously defamatory” allegations and persuaded the audience to doubt his innocence, with articles using ill-gained quotes such as, ‘weird’, ‘strange’, and ‘peeping tom.’ Journalists and paparazzi camped outside his home and followed him around whenever he would try to leave to the point where Jefferies accused them of harassment chris_jefferies_sun_mirrorand invasion of privacy. Jefferies was later released from bail and the police released a statement that he was no longer a suspect, however the tormenting didn’t end there. Jefferies had been accused of many things within the misleading articles and many of his close friends had been persuaded by the press not to trust him. Jefferies was told about how he could sue the press for their witch-hunt and by taking up a legal battle against 8 newspapers, Jefferies won an undisclosed libel pay-out that is said to be ‘substantial’ and received an official apology from the police and the press industry. In July, the Daily Mirror was fined £50,000 and the Sun £18,000 for contempt of court over their coverage of Jefferies.

What price do you put on a person’s reputation? Jefferies speaking after the ordeal said, ‘It was like having your personality left in ruins.’

How is it fair to make an innocent person feel like this? Especially when it is said that you are innocent until proven guilty…

What do you think?

A two-part TV series was produced that would show the case from start to finish and would highlight the ‘destructive nature’ of the press. I recommend watching the series as I found it very eye-opening. Part 1 and Part 2.

All the quotes and facts were found by researching articles available at: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/christopher-jefferies

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12 thoughts on “Conflict in Communication – Media Misrepresentation

  1. chloeattwoodpr says:

    Hi Helen.
    Your blog raises some great ethical questions as to why journalists were allowed to torment this individuals life. Surely there should have been some legislation’s and laws to stop journalists from reporting lies? This should have never of happened to a innocent individual.
    The lack of strict laws has clearly caused this conflict.

    • Helen Cummings says:

      Hi Chloe,
      Thank you for your comment. A big issue here is certainly the absence of strict laws to prevent this. The code of conduct has clearly been overstepped here and Jefferies himself is supporting the Leveson Inquiry to make a change within press standards and ethics.

  2. Matthew says:

    I think the media serves a purpose. Essentially this type of reporting only appeals to certain parts of the populous, who are likely to take as gospel all they read in the tabloids and react irrationally. More informed people are likely to read less biased stories generated by more respected media outlets. This ideal was epitomised, albeit satirically, in the The Simpsons Movie when Kent Brockman says live on a news broadcast “We don’t condone vigilante justice… Unless it gets results.” This sort of response is what the tabloids set out to achieve, and unfortunately for Jefferies there were a great number that became ensconced in these exaggerations.

    • Helen Cummings says:

      Thank you for your comment and I agree with you that people often read the news and believe everything that is said but I also think that the majority of the people have become wise to the media and expect untruthful reporting with the saying, ‘don’t believe everything you read in the news.’ However, is this not the originating problem? That the media is allowed to publish content of this sort for the less informed, as you put, people to be influenced by? Surely this conflict should have been prevented from that start by the media not having the power to exaggerate and lie, rather than accept that this is what the media’s purpose is?

      • Matthew says:

        I suppose you’re right. Certainly I support Jefferies in his notion that names of suspects shouldn’t be released until they have been officially charged.

      • Helen Cummings says:

        That is an interesting point; at what stage should the press be able to publish certain information? The Daily Mirror and The Sun were fined for contempt of court for the coverage of Jefferies as it interfered with the murder case. Is there really any control over what the press can write?

  3. Nick says:

    Hi Helen,
    It is a sad fact that some individuals have fallen foul of so called ‘Journalism’. Sad because it is a repetitive problem and sad because the damage done cannot be repaired simply by financial compensation. The case of Mr Jeffries not only raises the issue of misleading and untruthful reporting but also ‘our’ eagerness to soak it up and be judgemental. Peter Preston writing in the Guardian says ‘The Police must shoulder the blame for Christopher Jeffries mauling’. To be fair he has a point but the bigger question is this..Once the story breaks no matter what the source the press should have a duty and an ethical standard to be truthful and non judgemental. Mr Jeffries was for various reasons an ideal target. Based on the media coverage the public also had him convicted in their minds.Had he been charged what fair trial would he receive? So despite the code of conduct and the likes of Leveson will this happen again? I fear it will, it;s for the Media to be credible not conflictional

    • Helen Cummings says:

      Thank you for your comment, Nick. I completely agree that pay-outs can not undo the damage caused and it is the responsibility of the press to report fairly on stories, no matter whom broke the news. I also think that this will continue to happen and Mr Jefferies is one of many people that will fall victim to the media’s power and their knowledge that people will be influenced by it. If the code of conduct or Leveson Inquiry isn’t enough to make a change then what would be?

  4. Richard Bailey says:

    I can add two thoughts by way of context.

    One: I was taught by Christopher Jefferies as a teenager, and thought the TV drama portrayed him sympathetically (accurately, as far as I can judge).

    The second is a bigger point: Jefferies was a witness at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

    We encourage PR students to be critical of the PR industry – but it’s worth noting that most notorious scandals in recent years have put journalism (and journalists) in the dock – not PR practitioners.

    • Helen Cummings says:

      Thank you for your comment Richard, it’s great to hear from someone who knew Christopher Jefferies. I’m also glad to read that the TV Drama portrayed him accurately as I found the series very interesting.
      I think Jefferies getting involved in the Leveson Inquiry as a witness is effective towards improving press ethics but will this actually make a difference? I doubt whether changes will prevent a similiar scandal happening again.

  5. John Wilson says:

    Very interesting piece. I watched the show and found it very good. Whilst the media can have ‘blame’ apportioned to them in such cases, are they not just reflecting public prejudices?

    • Helen Cummings says:

      Hi John, I really appreciate your comment. You raise an interesting question and I do agree that perhaps the media get away with cases like this because the public look for someone to blame and an ‘easy’ victim can be made out through prejudice that is then fuelled by the media coverage.

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