Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

You're Pressing the wrong case, Heather

The tabloids have not had what you could call a great Press this week - what with the disclosures about the behaviour of the seemingly aptly named Mr Rat in the Alma tunnel and then with claims by Heather Mills McCartney that they've driven her to the brink of suicide.

Outlining her argument the woman they've labelled Lady Mucca said: " I've had worse Press than a paedophile or a murderer."

Invoking the name of the tabloid obsession of the moment she added: " Look what they're doing to the McCanns. What are we doing as a nation? ? We need to force a change as a responsible nation."

Oooh, er, steady on missus!

To some degree I actually have considerable sympathy for Heather Mills. She doesn't come over in some of the papers - particularly those loyal to St Paul of McCartney - as a warm and fluffy individual.

But some of the things written about her, not least that Lady Mucca tag, have been savage.

The woman was a glamour model. She didn't kill anybody.

What she did do was courageously put her life back together again after a truly horrendous accident where she lost her leg.

I'm one of those who consider her, in that respect, to be heroic.

I also think it is contemptible that some of her critics only laid into her AFTER she had split from the influential ex-Beatle.

But my sympathy for her doesn't extend to her argument that her treatment by the tabloids requires a clampdown on Press freedom.

The fact is that celebrities like Ms Mills McCartney want to have their tabloid cake and eat it. When the coverage is Hello! style gushing they're happy to go along with it. It's only when the mood turns sour they want Taliban censorship.

As interviews this week have illustrated, there hasn't actually been anything to stop Lady Mac coming forward before now and making her own case. When the Mucca stuff first hit the fan might have been the ideal time to get her retaliation in.

And citing the coverage of the McCann investigation hardly boosts her case.

The fact is that the McCanns have actually been extremely fairly treated by the media. Their every statement, their every photo-call is faithfully recorded. That questions have been asked about what happened on the night is hardly outrageous. A little girl is missing. Her parents are suspects. In reporting this it follows that newspapers have had to reflect the thinking of Portuguese officers. If anything, there is an argument to be made that the British media have actually been coy in their reporting of events.

As for Monsieur Rat in the Alma tunnel, appalling as his actions might seem in hindsight, the crucial point about those photographs of Diana he took is that they weren't actually used.

The pics of Diana were not the first nor will they be the last to be deemed too intrusive to print. Whatever the criticism of the paparazzi in the tunnel, the reality is it wasn't a camera that killed her. It was a drunk driver, a car driven at speed and the fact that neither she nor Dodi were wearing seat belts.

We know these facts because we have a free Press that is able to report them to us. The same free Press that allows Heather Mills McCartney and the parents of Madeleine McCann to defend their corner, to argue their case and, yes, to respond to those who criticise them.

The meejah has its faults. But a free Press is a cornerstone of our democracy.

It's a lot to ask a "responsible nation" to sacrifice - merely to salve the hurt feelings of a divorcing celebrity.

Selected 'sorry' hardly right and proper

Gerry Adams, who says he was never in the IRA, apologised this week, on behalf of the IRA, to the parents of a child murdered by the IRA.

Gerry was speaking at a function in London also attended by the parents of 12-year-old Tim Parry who was killed in the Warrington bombing.

Gerry said that the Foundation for Peace, established by the Parrys in the aftermath of their boy's death, was an example of how people who had been grievously hurt were able to produce something good and constructive.

Then, speaking as he tends to in the language of a reality television show contestant, he added: "I therefore want to acknowledge Colin and Wendy Parry's personal journey and how they have created this positive space from the place of deep trauma and grief they personally experienced."

He was saying sorry to them he went on to explain, because: "This is the right and proper thing to do."

The question is, of course, where does "right and proper" start and end?

Gerry is prepared to apologise to the parents of two children murdered by IRA bombs in Warrington.

But not apparently to the families of two children murdered by the IRA in west Belfast.

The two little girls - one aged seven, one aged 13 - were among the victims of the Shankill bombing in October 1993.

The response Gerry deemed "right and proper" to their murder? He helped carry the coffin of the man who planted the bomb that killed them. To add an extra bitter twist, he was also MP for the area at the time. How right and proper was that?

It's unlikely that Gerry's selective apology to the Parrys this week will set a precedent for Provie apology.

The sheer enormity of the crimes of the IRA make it impractical.

To give an idea of the scale, if Gerry was to apologise to a different victim's family every week from here on in, it would take him roughly 40 years to cover all those killed by the republican movement in the course of the Troubles.

But there is another intriguing aspect to Mr Adams and his apologies.

You have to wonder, what do the foot soldiers of the IRA make of it? Do they view Gerry saying sorry for what they did as "right and proper"?

Bearing in mind that many young working class men joined the Provos encouraged by the rhetoric of the likes of Gerry, it would be interesting to know what they now feel about him expressing regret and remorse for their actions.

Do they feel he speaks for them? Or is it possible that some feel that their one time apologist, turned apologiser has let them down?

Right and proper.

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