The ‘Street of Shame’ column in this week’s Private Eye for 12th-19th December 2014 reports that staff at St. George’s Hospital, Tooting, discovered a photographer with a long lens camera hiding in the bushes near Accident and Emergency. When he was asked what on Earth he was doing by hospital security, he replied that he was working for the Daily Mail. Janet Tomlinson, the Mail’s associate picture editor, confirmed this, when the hospital contacted her. She explained that the Mail had sent out photographers all over the country to snap ‘party people’. This means drunks about whom the Mail could publish long rant about how they were wasting NHS time and resources. According to the Eye, the hospital was spectacularly unimpressed by this and the Mail’s attitude, and threw the snapper off the premises on the grounds that the hospital was non-public regarding patient confidentiality.
Fleet Street as a very long and dishonourable history of violating the privacy and sanctity of hospitals. Either the Sun or the News of the World, as I recall, sent two of their journalists to burst into the hospital room where Gorden Kaye, the star of the WW II sitcom, ‘Allo, ‘Allo, was recovering following being struck down in the gales of 1989. As ‘Allo, ‘Allo featured the sort of bawdy innuendo common to a lot of the series written by Perry Croft, like Are You Being Served, one of the journos involved thought it would be a jolly lark to wave a cucumber around.
The press also burst into the hospital room of Russell Harty, when the BBC chat show host was dying of an AIDS-related illness. Even after they were thrown out and physically barred from the premises, they still continued to invade the privacy of the dying man by renting a room in the house opposite and snapping him through the window.
Recently I’ve posted a few pieces from Pride’s Purge, in which Tom Pride has described his own harassment by Mail journalists, who have tried to disclose his secret identity and threatened his friends. Just this week the good satirist has posted pieces about his complaint to the Daily Mail about their failure to protect adequately the identity of two children the Mail featured in a story about a family of ‘benefit scroungers’, who nevertheless still managed to spend £1,500 on Christmas. This was, of course, another hate piece on the unemployed and desperate. Given the tenor of the article, it was no surprise to read the remarks of another commenter on Tom Pride’s article that it had originally been written by the Sun, and the interview with the family had been obtained by deception. The family had been persuaded to give the interview, believing it would be a more neutral story about people on benefits and low incomes nevertheless finding ways to celebrate Christmas with style.
Tom Pride’s complaint about the newspaper was in part provoked by the outrageous news that Paul Dacre, the foul-mouthed editor of the Mail, is now chairman of IPSO, the government body regulating press conduct. This reminds me of the joke in the Walter Matthau/ Jack Lemon comedy, The Front Page, about a journalist trying to track down and interview an escaped prisoner in the Chicago in the 1930s. Lemon plays the journalist hero, with Matthau as his sleazy, amoral editor. One of the final jokes in that movie is that Matthau’s character then goes on to become a lecturer in journalistic ethics at Harvard.
We’re in pretty much the same situation here, with Dacre as head of IPSO. Only unlike the great comedies made by the Hollywood duo, that ain’t no laughing matter.