Lawlor/Journalism/Waters

By | October 31, 2005

John Waters has written the oddest column. As usual it starts out really well.

“Several of the editors and publishers of newspapers which carried the story have apologised to the Lawlor family for the pain and distress caused to them. But such pain and distress would have been even greater had the story been true. Doesn’t journalism have a responsibility in this regard also? The NUJ code of conduct, the sole ethical framework available to journalists, says that only considerations involving the public interest can be invoked to justify intrusion into private grief and distress.

Since Liam Lawlor no longer held any public office, no such justification was possible for the publication of any details other than the stark facts.”

An arguable case indeed. Then he laments the decline in standards in journalism in Ireland and that this is due to the rise of the freelance journalist who has a product which he needs to sell and commercial considerations are now a part of the editorial decision. Perhaps also arguable, maybe even true.

To support this case he quotes his own libel action against The Sunday Times some years ago. I think someone had printed an article which Waters successfully argued said he was a bad father. He says:

“And while it may seem facile to blame the Brits, there can be no doubt that much of the downward pressure on journalistic standards here has resulted from the climate of competition between indigenous papers and British imports. Media restraint is today achieved principally by the limits of public tolerance, and some media organisations are working hard to demolish this impediment.A few years ago I was the plaintiff in a defamation action against one of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, the Sunday Times” and he goes on to express his outrage about this case.

It seems most unfair that in order to support his point about the Lawlor/prostitute story, he mentions the Sunday Times. As I have previously mentioned the Sunday Times was the only paper NOT to publish the Lawlor/prostitute story because they thought the quotes from the police were highly speculative and not enough to base a story on, particularly a story in such bad taste. The LEAST he could have done was point out that the ST hadn’t printed the story. Fiona McHugh was the only editor who actually made the right call. Very mean minded of him not to acknowledge this. I hope someone at the ST writes to the IT and points this out.

Finally, one does wonder why the INDO group papers were blaming their source for misleading them. He passed on the police quotes (which were full of “likely” and “possibly” and bla blal) and the editors went with it.