Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Complete Control

Last Friday I wrote about the murder of Robert Holohan. At the time his body had only just been found and appeals were going out from the Garda and from the Church for the killer to give himself up. Simultaneously, as I mentioned at the time, it was being assumed that a paedophile was responsible for an abduction and murder. This was fed by the media, who concentrated on a paedophile angle from around the third day of the search until the results of the post mortem on the body (in fairness the Garda were checking known sex-offenders, but they had to cover all angles as part of the investigation - they never said, or implied, they were looking for a predatory paedophile). That post mortem showed, however, that the boy had "died from asphyxiation" (note, not "strangulation") and that there was no sign of a sexual assault.

Within hours one could hear the air being let out of the balloon as the radio commentators and tabloid journalists realised that their whole little angle was turning out to be way off the mark. All of a sudden it had become clear that maybe there wasn't some sex-monster stalking the children of East Cork and that the fear and loathing they were helping to fuel might have been mis-placed. Confirmation that every parents worst nightmare (and every tabloid editor's favourite bandwagon) wasn't going to come true came with the arrest of a neighbour of the young boy's. He's even been charged with manslaughter instead of murder so (as he gave himself up it is reasonable, if not legally correct, to assume he's responsible) it would appear that Robert's death was a tragic accident following a bit of a row.

I wish the media in Ireland could be forced to take a long hard look at itself after this. The amount of pieces that have been aired and published that have turned out to be misleading and downright wrong - and that were written to deliberately pull heartstrings and provoke public reaction in a negative way - is a disgrace. Just a few examples from the Irish Independent and Irish Examiner sites (Chosen because the content is free - the former is Ireland's best-selling broadsheet, the latter is a formerly regional broadsheet that is the best seller in the Cork region):

Robert Was Abducted Says Heartbroken Mum. Now I'm not, at all, having a go at the woman considering a tragic loss that I won't pretend to comprehend. But Ms. Holohan is not an investigator and, as she clearly had no idea what had happened her son, her opinions on who may have been responsible for his dissappearence are of no use to anyone except the paper deliberately toying with its reader's emotions.

Worst Fears Of Sex Predator Now Appear Inescapable. They only had to wait one more day to have the results of the post mortem but no, better to get the jump on anyone else who might run with this angle. Not that they care now of course - the story would have had its desired affect on people (parents) at the time.

Killing Puts End To Childhood Freedoms. Contemptible rubbish along the "nothing will ever be the same again" line, which includes this appalling quote for some redneck who didn't deserve to have his small-town views publicised... "It was a terrible thing to happen, and if it happened in England or the US you wouldn't have given it a second thought", the man said. Yes, he's right, most people living in their own little bubbles wouldn't care. That doesn't make it right, though, or worth publishing in this context.

Schools Security Urged To Protect Pupils. Really? From whom. Accuse me of benefitting from hindsight all you want, but I did say the "crime out of control" line was being abused (again) and this was written before the facts were known. Imagine that! People being expected to wait until all the facts are known before reacting!

Mayor Calls For Return Of Death Penalty For Child-Killers. More rednecks. Who made this bloke a mayor anyway?

Delays Will Add To Shock And Outrage. The body was left where it was found overinght because the Garda forensics team wanted to work in daylight rather than artificial light. This shrill editorial, whose writer is either wilfully stoking up an unnecessary controversy or is just downright stupid, simply belongs in a tabloid.

A Familiar Landscape Is Tainted Forever. Blah, blah, blah.
Fear Stalks Streets Of Busy Market Town. Again .
Mayor Predicts Another Murder If Killer Free - "...This person obviously has an appetite for this..." No, seriously now, who made this bloke a mayor anyway?

My little trawls through the newspapers' sites has actually shown the Examiner to be a lot worse than the Indo with its sensationalist reporting. This doesn't surprise me. Despite everyone in the area buying the damn thing it is, quite simply, a rag.
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