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Brenda Leyland: Did the press act responsibly when reporting the abuse directed at Kate and Gerry McCann?



Original Source: Leicester Mercury Monday 06 October 2014

By PA_Warzynski  |  Posted: October 06, 2014


Questions have been raised about how the press reported the story of Brenda Leyland's abuse of Kate and Gerry McCann


The death of ‘Twitter troll’ Brenda Leyland has sparked a heated debate on a number of social media platforms about how the press should act.


Reporter Peter Warzynski speaks to Dr Paul Reilly, a lecturer in Media and Communication at the University of Leicester, about the role of journalists and responsible reporting.


PW: This is a contentious issue, but should there be a line drawn? Was Sky (Martin Brunt) wrong to approach Mrs Leyland and confront her about the tweets?


PR: “Clearly we await further details from the police on the exact circumstances surrounding the death of Brenda Leyland.


However, it would appear that her outing as a ‘Twitter troll’ might have played a role in this tragic incident.

“Mrs Leyland seems to have had no idea that she was the subject of a police investigation and appeared to be visibly shocked at this, so Sky News may face some form of enquiry into the conduct of the journalist who approached her. 

“Questions may be raised about whether the reporter should have ‘doorstepped’ someone who the police had not yet spoken to in relation to an alleged criminal offence. 

“This potential for ‘trial by media’ would appear contrary to the ‘presumption of innocence’ for potential suspects in such cases.”


PW: Could things have been done differently and more importantly, do you think this will change the way reporters approach similar situations in the future?


PR: “I think the news media will be more circumspect in their reporting of similar situations in the future.


“I imagine that most journalists will choose to focus their attention upon those facing criminal prosecution in the courts rather than ‘doorstepping’ those who have yet to speak to the police.


“However, the 'trial by media' of public figures, such as politicians and celebrities, is unlikely to disappear in the immediate future. “Such coverage is often market-driven, as rival media organisations compete for ratings and audience share.”


PW: How do you see the media’s role in all of this?


PR: “Clearly the ‘trolling’ of celebrities and public figures is always likely to generate some form of public interest.


“Therefore, it may be unrealistic to expect the news media to refrain from covering such stories.


“However, the manner in which they challenge those suspected of ‘trolling’ and other social media offences must surely be re-examined in light of this incident.


“The news media must be mindful of how the ‘naming and shaming’ of individuals might not only impede police investigations into such offences, but also might lead to tragic events, such as those that appear to have led to Brenda Leyland’s death.”


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