Newspapers, especially the Sun and the Daily Mirror, were quick to launch a character assassination on the former schoolmaster Chris Jefferies when he was briefly accused of the murder of Joanna Yeates last year. Yesterday many of them were punished for their actions when they were forced to settle actions brought against them in relation to their prejudicial coverage.
This mammoth victory for a “little man” didn’t attract a great deal of coverage in today's Daily Mail. In their brief 105-word attempt at an apology, the paper admitted that the press had been wrong to accuse Jefferies of having “acted inappropriately to pupils” and having had “links to a convicted paedophile and an unresolved murder.” They didn’t say much else.
Though the Daily Mail and eight other newspapers paid substantial damages to the entirely innocent Jefferies, these papers should have been forced to go much further. They got it wrong when they ran headlines like “The strange Mr Jefferies.” They got it wrong when they suggested Jefferies “might be a homosexual… peeping Tom.” Their painting of a man “you didn’t want to come near you” was, in fact, frankly disgraceful.
Whilst phone hacked celebrities may bleat about their treatment, the likes of ordinary people like Mr Jefferies are the true victims of the press because they lack the resources, in general, to fight back. Thankfully because of the likes of the Attorney General personally intervening in this case, justice has thankfully been served.
Even though the man they called an “odd-bod” has been paid damages, he’ll sadly, however, forever be best remembered for his links to this case. Whatever sum has been paid, I’m sure Jefferies would rather have not been described in the manner chosen by the Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Star, the Daily Mail, the Scotsman, the Daily Record and the Daily Express. His lawyers should have also demanded at least one of these papers gave him a decent space where he could give his right to reply.
Brief mentions aside the apologies here have just been the best way for the newspapers to have the last word. Sorry, for them, is indeed the hardest word to say.
Read the Daily Telegraph’s detailed coverage at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8670114/Joanna-Yeatess-landlord-Chris-Jefferies-wins-libel-payout.html
Read the Daily Mail’s attempt at an apology at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/article-2020289/Chris-Jefferies.html?ito=feeds-newsxml