Is this Journalism?

On Lateline on Monday night (my emphases added):

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: He’s the man who was responsible for, of all things, enforcing standards in Britain’s House of Lords. Lord Sewell was previously a minister under Tony Blair, but now his career and probably his marriage are in tatters after a tabloid newspaper filmed him allegedly snorting cocaine from a prostitute’s breasts. The peer is facing a police inquiry after The Sun on Sunday released images also showing him allegedly smoking drugs while wearing a woman’s bra. The tabloid sting reveals a less-than-wholesome side to Lord Sewell’s after-hours activities. He’s recorded making racist and sexist remarks. At one point on the video, he’s asked about parliamentary allowances.



Now here’s the latest article, or front page in The Sun. As you can see, not the sort of picture you’d want to see of anyone on the front page, particularly the Deputy Speaker, sitting there having a cigarette in a bra. And if you see this little inset here, allegedly snorting cocaine. So, yeah, not a pretty picture, especially given his exalted position in the House of Lords.

EMMA ALBERICI: And not for his family either. He’s a married man, I understand.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Yes, he’s a married man and apparently, we’re told by The Sun that when he had these young ladies around at his house in Dolphin Square, which incidentally is the scene of allegedly serious allegations of child abuse, not connected to him at all, but that particular place, that when he had those young ladies, when he was entertaining them or perhaps they were entertaining him, he put the photo of his wife down, face-down, presumably so perhaps she couldn’t see what was going on or he couldn’t see her face looking at him while those goings-on were happening. We don’t know about that.

Precisely, he didn’t and we don’t know about that.

Philip Williams has a bit of an excuse for picking on the cigarettes and the bra picture because just before PW was talking about the Labour party attempting to distance itself and in that context the picture is the story. But I think we could have done without Emma Alberici’s harping on about Lord Sewel’s marriage.

It should be possible to report on a red-top sting without assuming a red-top voice yourself.

John Alexander (ironically) said something like this years ago: there’s far too much comment insinuating itself into news reports. Of course every news story implicitly and pretty much of necessity comments by what it chooses to report and not to report. but that is unavoidable and is at least governed by some (pretty minimal) requirements of fairness.

For my part the bra and the cigarettes are an almost endearing and definitely humanising touch – Sewell was obviously on an orgy of naughtiness (if not just on an orgy) and what I like is how that extended to his truth-telling (in the sense of stating opinions he would never say out loud in public) about his political colleagues. Just because he is a bad apple doesn’t mean that some of these opinions mightn’t be spot on.

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