Laziness, ignorance of the law, manipulation for political purpose or intellectual deficiency? – Modern law reporting …

I wonder sometimes whether it is laziness, ignorance of the law, manipulation of information for a political purpose or intellectual deficiency, or perhaps a combination of the four, which leads to poor reporting of law in the media.

The King’s Speech is said to be a remarkable film.  That it contains several historical inaccuracies – perhaps not to the point that the only accurate piece of information being that George VI was King, matters not in a drama…or does it?  Christopher Hitchens argues, in times where knowledge of history for many is at best sketchy, that films of this calibre may well distort popular perception of history. I’m happy (up to a point)  to let drama be drama and accept that most seeing the film will understand that it is drama.

The same distortion of perception of law and legal events is arguably true of the power of media in the reporting of law and legal events.

Unfortunately for the media, in the matter of law, if we are to have a credible rule of law of any meaning, it is important that law and legal events, judgments and the like, are reported accurately and fairly. One could add to this the old fashioned concept of responsible reporting.  The disgraceful coverage of the Yeates murder case and the smearing of the reputation of the landlord – who, presumably, will be cleared and released from police bail soon, given that the police have found another suspect to arrest? – is illustrative of a creeping modern trend.

It is bad enough when journalists, many without any formal legal training, misreport on the law – but when weight is added by so called pundits and experts to an erroneous report, the offence to accurate and fair reporting is compounded. When those experts are lawyers – it is, frankly, unacceptable.

Nearly Legal has a fascinating post on this very issue – and I encourage and urge you to read it in full.

On the naughty step – a bag of wind

Nearly Legal has deployed ‘The Naughty Step’ for conduct following on from The Daily Mail’s report on the Supreme Court decision in Yemshaw v LB Hounslow. I agree with Nearly Legal’s dry summation that few would regard the Daily Mail as a newspaper of record…and certainly not for legal matters. The Daily Mail carried the story under the headline:  “Shout at your spouse and risk losing your home: It’s just the same as domestic violence, warns woman judge“.

Nearly Legal puts it very neatly….

“….you may be surprised to learn that it is not the Mail on the naughty step (or perhaps the Mail should be considered to always have been on the step). The Mail is of course a cynical, amoral panderer to a certain petit bourgeois weltanshauung, but it is frankly a bit gauche to be surprised by the depths to which Paul Dacre’s organ will stoop.

No, for the person to be put on the step, we must look to the surprising fact that in its article on Yemshaw the Mail managed to find a supportive quote from a ‘Family Law Expert’, who said:

The judiciary are taking the Humpty Dumpty view, and it risks undermining confidence in the legal system

Nearly Legal notes: [Update: The excellent  UK Human Rights blog has picked up on this post and drawn it together with its own criticisms of reporting of human rights cases - a thoughtful and interesting post. They include a link to the Press Complaints Commission form. What a good idea, and here it is.]

Please do read the rest. Hopefully ‘legal experts’ will keep to their own sphere of expertise, assuming they have any in the first place, before….pronouncing.  I think it best that legal experts themselves do not take a Humpty Dumpty view…lest they undermine faith in the legal system.

In the meantime, of course….. I shall continue to parody through Muttley Dastardly LLP …when I think it appropriate to do so… but that is parody... not legal expertise.

7 thoughts on “Laziness, ignorance of the law, manipulation for political purpose or intellectual deficiency? – Modern law reporting …

  1. and while we’re on this one, can i add a volley at the same sort of papers insisting on mis-characterising legal aid as just
    a) a get-rich-quick scheme for them pesky millionaire lawyers
    or
    b) a lefty con to ensure that immigrunt muslim peedos can stay in this country, breeding like rabbits, living in multi-million pound mansions, raping our womenfolk and poisoning our wells on the grounds that their own kind are so backward they will murder them if they go home where they belong. which you might think was a good thing anyway. and, no, it doesn’t make any difference if they were ‘born here’ or some other communist conspiracy.

    gets my goat.

  2. The Daily Mail does indeed have its own Weltanschauung. It is a pity that most newspapers have now dispensed with having proper legal correspondents. In their absence there is some utterly absymal tripe written about cases and legal affairs generally. As something of an antidote, it was great to see BBC4′s programme about the Supreme Court. The Times (with its unfortunate paywall) and The Guardian continue to have good coverage of legal matters as do many periodicals (e.g. New Statesman) but it is unfortunate that the general public gain what knowledge they have of the law from the various Daily Rags.

    The Yeates case rumbles on. IF (I am not sure) Mr Jefferies remains on bail then perhaps the Police ought to be explaining why. Another man (Vincent Tabak) is now charged with the murder. Mr Jefferies had his entire character traduced in the popular media and the Attorney-General did little about it. The same Attorney is now supporting a private member’s bill which, if enacted, will prevent the media naming any suspects who are on bail. That looks like a recipe for the public and media to enter into speculation about who is being held. RESPONSIBLE reporting is the proper answer and the Attorney ought to have the guts to act against those news outlets who were so irresponsible about Mr Jefferies.

  3. Pingback: Coverage of Yemshaw judgment raises questions of responsible legal reporting « UKSC blog

  4. Pingback: Case comment: Yemshaw v LB Hounslow [2011] UKSC 3 « UKSC blog

  5. Pingback: Case comment: Yemshaw v LB Hounslow [2011] UKSC 3 « FreeLegalWeb

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