Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Broadchuch: At last something we're not to blame for. by Elfin Mackenzie.

So there was an amazing twist at the end of Broadchurch after all: a journalist WASN'T the killer. Everything in the programme until that point had led me to believe that our profession would end up carrying the can for Danny's murder as well as all the other incidents of intrusion, fatal hounding, theft etc that our fictional colleagues were shown indulging in.
Broadchurch, as has widely been remarked, was unrealistic on any number of levels - in the last episode alone the physical and then verbal attack on the killer while under arrest must have had police custody sergeants everywhere shaking their heads in disbelief. And it was unfair in its portrayal of many professions - the paedophile news agent, coke-pushing seductress hotelier etc. But it really most consistently dumped on, perhaps unsurprisingly, journalists.
Following Leveson, who else is so ready-made vilified for villainy? This show trial saw the public drip-fed day after day of (largely unchallenged) smears against journalists - we burgled Hugh's flat, stuffed notes into JK's kids' rucksacks etc etc. The inquiry cherry-picked the worst examples of professional conduct over several decades, largely ignoring the normal, decent stuff. Many journalists will have felt that by the end of this they were left just a notch above child molesters in the public perception.
Well Broadchurch took us beyond that - in this setting, if anything, the journalists were more despicable than the child molesters..
Here the two paedophile characters were both given sympathetic back stories - one was guilty only by the merest technicality (a few more days and it'd have been legal - and anyway he loved her forever after in a true and admirable way); the other may have been a killer but it was sort of accidental and anyway he never 'did anything' to Danny or any other minor; he loved his son sincerely. They were, as paedophiles go, rather nice
In contrast to the sanitising of the paedophiles, the portrayal of journalism was anything but nice.
Karen White, the Daily Herald journalist (for me, openly a fictional Daily Mail), was the personification of heartless ambition. She stole a soft toy from the tributes to Danny, used a completely against PCC approach (which would have meant instant dismissal in real life) to his bereaved 15 year old sister as leverage to buy up the victim's family then misled that family as to what such a piece would involve. But was her vile behaviour really her fault when she was under such pressure from her grotesque editor at the Herald who bullied and threatened her - and rewrote her copy to make it misleading?
And supporting this ghastly pair were a pack of unnamed photographers and hacks who thought nothing of jostling a bereaved mother on her way into church, or of taking pictures through the windows of private residence at which a dead child's memorial service was being held. Leveson had to go back almost 30 years to hear even a hint of such conduct - and even then in a testimony I know many journalists found highly questionable. One friend of mine remarked after the 'papping the memorial' episode: "I worked at the sharp end of Fleet Street for 40 years, doing countless funerals and death knocks, and I have NEVER seen anyone behave like this."
Olly Stevens, the young local reporter, was Karen's willing accomplice. From his insensitive 'naming Danny' tweet in Episode One, putting professional ambition before family loyalty, he was depicted as insensitive and frequently stupid. But was it really any wonder - he was begot by a drug addict liar after all.
Olly and Karen sealed their gruesome-twosome status with the inevitable shag. Afterwards he made an incongruous and jarring joke about anal sex. Charming.
And, crucially, together Olly and Karen identified Jack Marshall as a possible suspect. In outing him as a (relatively wholesome) sex offender, they set in chain a media hounding - front pages of 'real' national newspapers were shown outing Jack - that would lead to him taking his own death. Would this really have happened? No. It is almost inconceivable that newspapers would even be able to identify his past in these circumstances and even if they could, would they really splash the previous conviction of someone not even identified as a suspect? Their lawyers wouldn't let them even if they wanted to.
The appearance that this was a credible portrayal of the real media at work was enhanced by cameos from ITN news reader Mark Austin. Did he read the script before he agreed to take part in such a stitch up of his own profession? I do hope not.
Jack's death was the worst of it. But the programme was riddled with absurd inaccuracies: the murder of an 11 year old boy on a tourist beach was not a a story of national interest until Karen's interview splash. Yeah right - no one would cover that. The local paper had apparently only two staff, a wily editor and a rookie reporter, which, even in these hard times, seems a bit light; there were no deadlines, ever. People filed when they felt like it, if they filed at all. Most implausibly of all perhaps was the direct phone call from the chief copper to Karen after he'd finally cracked the case. Try that in April 2013 and you'd find yourself getting dawn raided by your own colleagues for misconduct in a public office, dodgy ticker or no.
In fact during the whole series the only moment that rang remotely true was when the more senior hack persuaded the more junior to do all the work on a story for which she would get the byline; now that at least I could believe.
Earlier this month the actress who played Karen, Vicky McClure, was unveiled as an ambassador for a charity, the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, which campaigns to criminalise hate attacks on young people like Goths and Emos who are often harassed and assaulted by strangers. It's a cause with which I have a good deal of sympathy. I really do.

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