28 May 2011

Media influence in the 'Baby P' case: positive or negative?

Sharon Shoesmith and team following Appeal Court ruling.
Yesterday, the Court of Appeal handed down the ruling that Sharon Shoesmith, former Director of Children's Services of Haringey Council, had been unlawfully dismissed following the death of 'Baby P' (Peter Connolly) at the hands of his Mother and her partner. 

A timeline of the events surrounding and subsequent to Peter Connolly's death can be found here

Sharon Shoesmith, since the verdict was announced yesterday, has given an interview on BBC Radio 4, during which she clearly feels that she was not given sufficient opportunity to answer accusations against her. A recording of that interview can be found here.

How much did the media affect the way Parliament and the public dealt with a difficult, emotional issue?

This little boy's murder affected many people and became the focus of displays of anger and frustration throughout the country. 

The public were quite naturally appalled by the murder of Peter Connolly and wanted answers as to how it had happened under the watchful eyes of social workers and medical practitioners.

 The media took up the cry for justice and retribution. There were increasingly shrill calls in print and from television screens for the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and his Children's Minister, Ed Balls, to deliver 'someone' to blame and to punish.. 

The Government was subjected to enormous pressure to bring about a speedy end to what was by then considered by the public and politicians in Opposition, the Tories and Libdems, inordinate delay in investigating the obvious problems within the relevant department at Haringey Council.

At Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons Chamber on November 12th 2008, matters soon reached a vitriolic pitch: Video of exchanges between Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

The press began to call for heads to roll and, although both Brown and Balls insisted they would take more time to make a judgement after two recently completed official reports on the conduct of Haringey Social Services officials, in a press conference on Monday December 1st 2008, Balls removed Sharon Shoesmith from her post.

Some examples of newspaper articles from that time:
Daily Mail


The Sun, in particular campaigned for sackings at Haringey Social Services and a petition signed by 1.2m people was delivered by the sack load to Downing Street.

Excerpt from article in the Sun on 26th November 2008, (the words in bold print are as they appeared in the original article):
 "And as the biggest ever newspaper petition was delivered Children's Secretary Ed Balls gave The Sun a clear hint that heads MAY roll following an emergency probe into the scandal in Haringey, North London.

Baby P died of horrific injuries last year following months of abuse after social services allowed him to stay with his twisted mother and stepdad.

The Sun petition demands the SACKING of social workers Sharon Shoesmith, Maria Ward, Sylvia Henry and Gillie Christou. And it calls for the doctor in the case, Sabah Al Zayyat, to be DISCIPLINED for failing to spot the 17-month-old's broken spine. 

Mr Balls made it clear he will wait until he receives the report into the failings on Monday before acting. He refused to single out individuals. And he insisted he would not act out of anger - but after a full study of the report."

Today, May 28th 2011, the media are running with the Court of Appeal's decision and in several newspapers are articles with a definite bias against Ms. Shoesmith. Those same papers who whipped up all of the fury and hatred in 2008. Ms Shoesmith, should she win the next round of appeals on behalf of the Government, stands to be awarded a large amount of compensation.

Judging by the tone of some of the most resent press, she should perhaps prepare for some very negative publicity:


Daily Mail  1

Daily Mail  2
Mail on Sunday Comment 

Is the battle to sell newspapers and raise ratings making it impossible for legislators and politicians to come to rational decisions in a calm and thoughtful way? How much does the media in this country dictate the agenda and tempo of our lives?