Talking Past One Another

Bloggers generally ask questions, invite comment, engage in discussions, listen to other viewpoints. Some journalists and newspaper websites do likewise. But not all.

There has been much written (including by myself) about the journalism of Christopher Booker (Telegraph), in the wake of judicial criticism of his writing.

I have written two posts: “Brought to Booker” and more recently “Booker Booby Prize” and “Booker v Bellamy Round 2“. Although others apparently within his orbit have commented there has been nothing from Mr Booker in my comments moderation inbox.

But now Mr Booker, in the course of an article about a mother involved with social services whose cause he has been “championing” has responded, after a fashion, to his critics. He says,

I was again attacked last week by a prominent legal blogger, for reporting on cases where the system appears to be going tragically wrong, without having sat for days in court to hear “both sides of the story”.

This barrister compared me to a sports writer who cannot be bothered to watch a football match, but relies on a version given by one player after the game. But would a journalist attend a match when he is forbidden to name the teams or any of the players, may be imprisoned for disclosing much of what happens on the pitch, and is even prohibited from giving the final score?

This I think must be a reference to Adam Wagner’s recent blog post “Must journalists attend court hearings to report accurately?” (UK Human Rights Blog – earlier post on Mr Booker here). 

Would a journalist attend the match if “he is forbidden to name the teams or any of the players, may be imprisoned for disclosing much of what happens on the pitch, and is even prohibited from giving the final score?” Self evidently not. But then sports journalism is about entertainment and not about matters of public interest. I would expect a journalist reporting on matters of public interest, and which are technically complex to adopt a different approach from a reporter at a cup match.

Adam’s analogy works only so far – it is apt in respect of the point about reliability and impartiality of source, but Booker attempts to recruit it in order to demonstrate the point that it doesn’t make commercial sense for journalists to attend court in family cases.

This exposes the real issue – having made the decision that it is not commercially justified to attend the “fixture” would a responsible journalist nonetheless go ahead and report the match anyway? One would hope not – at least not without verifying his information / sources. That Booker has overlooked dealing with this point is illuminating.

That Booker has chosen to respond through the medium of The Telegraph website only, without referencing the UKHR Blog article by hypertext link and with comments disabled is similarly indicative of approach (fingers in ears “la la la” and most definitely not new media).

Looking forward to receiving the accolade of  Telegraph’s Most “prominent legal blogger” soon…;-)

 

Update: Adam Wagner’s response here.

7 thoughts on “Talking Past One Another

  1. The flaw in Booker’s football analogy – which would normally work well – is that he isn’t like a sports writer, he’s more like a fan obsessed with one team. So, yes, I would expect him to attend the match even in the circumstances he describes. Booker isn’t an investigative journalist – he’s an armchair pundit.
    One of the problems, of course, is that the family courts aren’t fully open; they are open just a crack, and that ‘half-arsed’ approach (to quote Ursula Cheer’s interlocuter) results in half-arsed journalism. I’m sure Charlie Falconer is very pleased with himself.

  2. Thanks for commenting Lucy – clearly Booker is picking an easy target! Perhaps offer an article to the Telegraph…

    Anyway, I have responded, for what it is worth:

    http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2011/05/22/should-journalists-attend-court-part-2/

  3. hmm, elsewhere you criticise Booker for not being sufficiently responsible in his reporting; here, when comments are disabled on his column because of legal concerns, you criticise him for not engaging. Surely he has been a responsible journalist here, something you are all in favour of ?

    “This exposes the real issue – having made the decision that it is not commercially justified to attend the “fixture” would a responsible journalist nonetheless go ahead and report the match anyway?”

    If one has a view that there is an overwhelming interest in a having fair and transparent justice system, and that this also applies to this area, perhaps the idea of a system that is open “just a crack”, and where gagging orders are (according to Booker) applied liberally, identifies an area where the public might just lose faith in the administration of justice.

    If booker points this out, perhaps it isn’t appropriate to shoot the messenger. If Booker hasn’t got the facts entirely correct, perhaps the problem is in a system which sets the bar unreasonably high. I think the idea that journalists have to attend all through the hearings on the off-chance they might be permitted to report is an example of a bar which is unreasonably high. It doesn’t allow for open administration of justice, and what is more, you don’t have to be a lawyer to see that.

    Expecting journalists to be perfect is also rather a high bar, and it seems it is also a standard which is a bit high for some judges (paras 209-212 of Bellamy). So slinging mud ain’t going to help much.

  4. Booker made no errors except the name of an anonymous doctor and no fractions were discussed or even found at the time he wrote.
    Basically the question boils down to “who is in favour of gagging outraged parents?
    There is only ONE country in the whole world where government agents regularly take away mothers’ new born babies and toddlers for” risk of emotional abuse”,and threaten them with jail if they protest publicly .
    That country is THE UK !!!!! What shame,what disgrace,the cradle of democracy the only country in the world to kidnap children and legally gag their mothers ! Who should be punished ? Well,I say the social services and the judges who misinterpret the much derided Human Rights Act and use it as an instrument of repression by the State instead of the protection of family life that it was clearly intended to be !
    PS LUCY I have recommended on my site http://www.forced-adoption.com your book to help litigants in person!

  5. “Booker made no errors except the name of an anonymous doctor”

    The much maligned Ian Josephs is correct, Booker was accurate in his reporting.

    As I was trying to sat.

  6. […] which appear to demonstrate that such tactics are an effective way to protect your family (see Booker articles for example), but my experience suggests that the far more likely outcome is that a parent will […]

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