Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

Tag: Leveson Inquiry

I am ashamed to call myself a Journalist

On Saturday 31st October, at 1.30am, my 22-year-old eldest daughter Polly was killed when she lost control of the car she was driving and hit a tree. She was alone in her VW Beetle, no one else was hurt and, I am told, it was instant.

I can tell you that having lost my father as a child, other close family members along the timeline of life and having said many times ‘on air’ that losing a child must be the worst thing of all, it is. It really is. It’s not a grief ‘competition’ it just is. Losing a child is the worst thing of all.

Polly’s mother Sarah and her dad Simon, who brought Polly up from the age of 3 and did such a brilliant job, are broken by this, as are all our families. My eldest son, Polly’s brother Oliver, is broken too but one of the few comforts I am taking at the moment is what a fine, brave, courageous man he has become. Again his mother Sarah and dad Simon deserve all the credit.

It is Simon, Polly’s dad, who has prompted me to write this blog. I am Polly and Oliver’s father, Simon is their dad. That is always the language we use, though Ollie and Polly always call me dad when we are together. Language is vital if we are to understand who we are and what we do.

The news of my daughter’s death, because of the nature of the work I used to do (I know I will never be the same again) and who I am engaged to means that there is some media interest in me with the local and national newspapers and TV. Those who know me well will know that I never, ever wanted to be the story, just to tell or share the story, as a journalist, correctly. I have never wanted to be on TV, I don’t want to be known, perhaps just be known of, to do my job well and to help people if I can and to get to the truth for others.

As all the family came together on Monday morning to start the process of making arrangements for Polly, I was contacted by the BBC for a quote about her. There has been quite a reaction to the news, because of me, with many kind words paid in tribute to my daughter and kindness shown towards me from those who listen and maybe even enjoy what I do daily on the radio. I gave the BBC ‘the line’, agreeing it while on the ‘phone to them with Polly’s mother Sarah and Polly’s dad Simon hearing me do this. I wanted the quote, the tribute to come from Sarah, Polly’s mum, who did such a brilliant job in bringing our daughter up with Simon. The name order was also agreed to be ‘Sarah, her husband Simon Bosworth and John Darvall’. I was clear.

On Monday night, on Points West the local BBC News opt for the West, none of this happened in their broadcast about Polly. Simon was called Polly’s ‘stepdad’, a phrase we have NEVER used. Simon, Polly’s dad was straight on the phone to me. He was rightly furious and more. This journalistic failure significantly added to his pain, and to mine. To hear Polly’s dad rage at you about your profession, about the things you have clearly agreed whilst standing in his family home just hours before when our daughter has been killed…words fail me. This poor piece of journalism made Tuesday probably the worst day of this whole episode so far. This includes seeing our dead daughter in a hospital mortuary just 12 hours after she was killed.

Newspapers have contacted me and provided appallingly written articles, which I have had to change, ‘polish’ or make actual sense of. Other papers have published articles using my personal relationship as ‘the in line’, when this is NOT the story but, at best, just a very small part of the story. This has hurt many who are in the throes of grief. Other papers have just published without checking and have got facts wrong. See earlier blogs. One paper spliced a year off my age. I will take that!

The way we all consume news is changing. The way we share news has changed and will continue to change at a faster pace. This week TV and newspapers have proven to me why they are not the future of news. If they can’t even get their facts right, be trusted with clear information and then report it accurately is it any wonder that we are all turning to Facebook, Twitter and other internet sources for our news and information? The internet allows us to come to our own conclusions by checking our own facts. We really can’t trust the traditional outlets to do it right or properly.

I write this as a father who has lost a daughter. I write this as a journalist who loved his work but can now clearly see why so many have lost faith in his profession and traditional media. They, we and I have brought this on ourselves.

I also write this to set the record straight for Polly’s mother Sarah and Polly’s dad Simon. I am ashamed to call myself a journalist and I am truly sorry to have added to your grief. I have spoken to Simon and he knows I have written this.

Two bits of advice for you reading this, if I may:

Trust nothing you read or watch. Check it, at least twice, as it’s more than likely wrong from just a single source.

Love your children and loved ones. Properly love them. Tell them every day, make sure they know that you love them regardless of what might be happening. Nothing is more important than that.

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This last week has been about the weak.

In Westminster last week the Leader of the opposition was called weak by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister was called weak by the Leader of the Opposition. Next week neither will be there as they will both have a note from their mum’s saying they ‘can’t go as they are being bullied’.

Also it is the weak and vulnerable who will suffer with the coming winter fuel bills of the big six energy companies and their average of 9.2% increases in energy prices. What is actually being done about that? Naff all in reality. The ‘Big 6’ effectively said ‘not me mate’, Labour’s price freeze idea is totally potty as it can never work in the global energy market of today, the Coalition’s proposal of a competition review will take 12 months to reach a conclusion and shifting the Green tax into general taxation only mean you will pay more, just differently. It is going to be a long, cold winter for many so warm, snuggly Christmas jumpers might not be such a bad present idea this year.

All this has occurred against the background of Russell Brand calling for a revolution against the political class of today, those who seek to make a profit and pretty much anyone who is not him or who think like him. Free speech is a wonderful thing.

Yet it is free speech that is actually under threat by the very actions of those who benefit most from it, make money out of it and use it to fill the pages of our daily and Sunday papers.

Whether we end up the Royal Charter to govern and control the actions of the press, or they continue to ‘mark their own homework’ as the campaign group Hacked Off call it, one thing is for certain. Thanks to the actions of some journalists and maybe others on trial right now, our press and journalism will never be the same again in the UK.

But this is far bigger problem than just our UK press.

The world looks to us for a free press. Our tradition of free speech and a free press first gained its printed voice in the mewing 17th century newspapers and in the articles of Milton against the puritanical views of Cromwell and his the English Republic. If our press falls under parliamentary control other governments will use our newly ‘state controlled’ media as the very example they need to control, govern, censor what can and can’t be printed. Then it will be the same for broadcasting. Mr Brand may yet get his revolution, but perhaps not quite on the terms he was elucidating.

Why did all this happen? Why did the press do what they did? What made it okay for the press to rifle through the bins of Steve Coogan, ‘convict’ Bristol’s Christopher Jefferies on a series of front pages or hack into the phone of the then missing school girl Milly Dowler? You.

You bought the papers. You bought the stories. You chose the front page of the paper, you fed the beast. It is all down to you. And it’s down to me too. No paper, no journalist, no editor would have done any of the things revealed in the Leveson enquiry if you didn’t buy them.

So now we may not have lost the sensational headlines, but we have lost threatening, penetrating investigative journalism, challenging opinion and, most of all, the freedom of the press that we all enjoyed, maybe just a little too much.

The press will be weak from this last week.

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