MEDIA: The Lawrence bandwagon is an easy ride for the press

The sight of Britain’s newspapers ganging up together to protect press freedom and the right to publish portions of the Lawrence inquiry leaked to the Sunday Telegraph has been pretty unedifying. It’s even succeeded in making me feel a bit sorry for Home Secretary Jack Straw, a decent man, although daft in his attempt to bolt the stable door after the nag had fled.

The sight of Britain’s newspapers ganging up together to protect

press freedom and the right to publish portions of the Lawrence inquiry

leaked to the Sunday Telegraph has been pretty unedifying. It’s even

succeeded in making me feel a bit sorry for Home Secretary Jack Straw, a

decent man, although daft in his attempt to bolt the stable door after

the nag had fled.



But the larger truth is that newspapers have jumped on to the Lawrence

bandwagon in a manner which shrieks, not of deliberate debate of the

report’s recommendations, but of a crude witch hunt of Condon, spurred

on by a vicious circulation war.



Have they thought hard about the issue of endemic racism, or indeed

about tackling their own blind spots in daily coverage - or non-coverage

- of racial issues? I suspect not. The Lawrence case creates an obvious

win/win situation - true justice may be impossible but we’re all safe in

wanting to make amends.



The truth is that every editor and marketing director bitterly regrets

the way their papers failed to spot the editorial and circulation

potential in Lawrence’s murder six years ago.



One told me last week that his team are envious of the brave, calculated

way the Daily Mail under editor Paul Dacre, forced the whole incident on

to the front pages in 1997. He has been rewarded by seeing it mushroom

into a major crisis of confidence in policing standards.



John Witherow, editor of the Sunday Times, caused quite a stir among his

staff and competitors this month when he told the Guardian’s media

section that he regretted the way his paper had failed to land certain

big stories. Although he didn’t name the Lawrence story, the fact is

that in its great campaigning period under Harry Evans 25 years ago

Insight would have been on to it like a shot.



My suspicion is that the nationals have been so keen to expand

readership among the unconverted that they have concentrated too much

firepower on the softer lifestyle features. The Guardian, which has just

opened up the genetically modified food debate alongside the Mail are

the honourable exceptions.



The Daily Mail is a hard paper to compete against. Why? Because it can

land a knockout blow with its left while tickling the fancy of its

readers with its right. Before the failed Government injunction this

week, Saturday’s Daily Mail carried a historic front page, in which it

repeated the original allegations naming the five suspected men.



Turn to page three, second most important in the paper, and you find

that it is devoted to a huge picture story on the ’giant poinsettia that

won’t stop growing’. That’s why its sales are up 4.5 per cent in a year.



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