Free to attack – second round

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‘I HOPE I WON’T BE ATTACKED FOR WRITING THIS!’

As attacks increase around the world on a free media, here our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry who has spent 39 years in journalism, outlines the threats or abuse he has faced, as well as the legal action which followed murder cases in countries with an independent judiciary.

Earlier he described how he was assisted in breaking into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.

He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off

Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.

He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the current coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown is playing havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.

 

Attacks on journalists are commonplace

It must be worrying to almost everyone that attacks on journalists like me, are on the increase.

Possession of a free media is the lifeblood of a functioning democracy, yet year on year alarming cases of assaults on journalists around the world are rising, and this awful situation has been thrown into sharp relief by a terrible event in America.

‘Smirking’ Robert Telles said the journalist he is accused of murdering was a ‘bully’

The investigative reporter, Jeff German, who was 60 (my age), was found stabbed to death at his home, and his alleged killer, Robert Telles, was detained by armed police officers, before being prosecuted for the crime.

Mr Telles appeared in front of a judge smirking, according to media reports, as he was told when his next court appearance would be. The man he is accused of attacking was working on a story about Mr Telles the week he was killed, according to his one time newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Jeff German was working on a story when he was killed

The paper’s editorial cartoonist published an illustrated tribute to Mr German, calling him, “one of the finest investigative reporters in the country. His job was to shine the light on the darkness”. This is an uncanny echo of the slogan in Welsh and English on The Eye, which I edit: “Finding Light in Darkness”.

Mr Telles has said of Mr German in the past “He’s a bully” and “he’s obsessed with me”, which are identical to phrases which have been hurled at me as I have attempted to do my job. This is disconcerting to say the least.

The former phrase was seized on, for example, in response to a story I wrote concerning a television ‘reporter’ who had posted pictures of herself on Facebook (FB) or Twitter in skimpy clothes, and is typical of the insults I constantly receive.

This was the obnoxious pronouncement: “Your article on Ellie Pitt was bordering on mysogynistic bullying, a really pathetic article written by a bitter individual who was a complete failiure as a BBC correspondent and also loved bashing the Catholic Church with your disgraceful Panorama programme”.

Then there’s ‘obsessed’ or ‘obsessive’. The ‘comedian’ and failed media executive, Huw Marshall, likes to accuse me of those things, in his tirades condemning items I have written about his extraordinary exploits.

He has used Twitter to say that I am an “obsessive coward”, linking the inaccurate remark to an article I had published about one of his unsuccessful ventures.

Mr Marshall has declared, too, that he has a number of different Twitter accounts, but says he reserves one for writings which may bother me, saying: “@marshallmedia is where I post Everton related stuff and things that upsets Phil Parry”.

I endure constant abuse online, and my Wikipedia entry is regularly vandalised.

The latest example of it, was that the person took out: ‘…online investigative website…’and added: ‘…personal blog called…’Bizarrely, though, in the ‘career’ section, it still said: ‘…launched his own investigative website “The Eye”…’.

This may sound insignificant, but actually it is VERY important, because it effectively says that a story does not contain facts at all, but is a ‘personal view’, and I am glad to say the new addition was quickly spotted, so that the entry could be put back to its original form by one of my supporters.

Other attacks have been cruder – in the past the word “knobhead” has been added after my name.

I have been compared on Twitter to the comedy broadcaster Alan Partridge by a Sion Tomos Owen whose blog describes him as: “…a bilingual TV and Radio presenter, illustrator, writer and creative workshop tutor…”. Mr Owen said in Welsh: “There’s no way that this website (The Eye) is for real?! It’s as if a Take a Break (light magazine) story has been edited by Alan Partridge” (laughing emoji).

Ellie Pitt – was it ‘misogynistic’ to highlight the activities of a ‘reporter’ who happened to be a woman?

Indeed accusations of being ‘misogynistic’ (which is the CORRECT spelling!) or ‘misogynist’ are a constant refrain among those who fire off derogatory statements, if factual stories are published with the focus of them happening to be women, yet these are potentially libellous words, and the description is provably wrong.

I have also been accused online (incorrectly) of being a “bastard” (many times), an “anti-devolutionist wanker”, “pure scum”, a “liar” (also many times) a “little git”, and (correctly) a “nosey git”“irritating”, or a “nuisance”. But these insults come amid many others. Too many, in fact, to mention.

A conman I exposed launched a furious diatribe against me – contacting as well my friends and family on social media. In one rant he wrote on FB:  “You write total lies about people (only facts are reported), bully to the point of harassment and suicide, and will not answer a direct email? This is not journalism this is a mixture of Phil Parry (The ex journalist) and (others) you are pure scum!!!!! Let it be publicly known that The Eye does NOT care about people it just lies to make fictitious stories up. BULLYING, LIES, MENTAL HEALTH ABUSE TO NAME BUT A FEW!!!!!”.

A journalist at work who was accused of being ‘pure scum’ and a ‘bully’

In another he said: I am have contacted you (sic) numerous times before asking why you consistently, stalk, bully and harass me? … You so far have asked the following for comments:
Thief
Abuser (if this is meant as a sexual abuser, it has never been said)
Liar
Sex Offender (It has never been said that this man is a sex offender).
Drug user (It has never been said that this man is a drug user, just that he has dealt in illegal drugs).

David Aaronovitch is another victim of abuse

It is clear that I am not the only journalist to suffer this level of offensive comments. The Times columnist (although just sacked, as he is, perhaps, deemed too ‘left wing’) David Aaronovitch writes extensively in opposition to anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists, and evidently receives a lot of abuse as a result.

As he put it in a recent piece: “Some of this (phone calls) is abusive, but I am way beyond worrying about this any more”.

A sophisticated alarm system was installed at Phil’s house

But these are not the only events of note. As with Mr German, I have visited one individual at home who I was effectively accusing of murder, when the door I came through was bolted behind me.

I have also had to have a security expert offer advice about keeping movements irregular, and my house has been wired for intruders, with panic buttons installed at the bedside as well as in our hall. We had two small children in the house at the time of this, and it scared the living daylights out of my wife!

Marc Winchester – ‘I’ll whack him’

Rather worryingly, in the context of what has happened, a threat has, too, been made on social media. After it was said that my reporting was “negative journalism”, a Marc Winchester, wrote on Twitter:  “I’ll whack him (me).

This was described as a ‘joke’ by Mr Winchester, who has claimed he was a multi-millionaire but ran a convenience store, yet it was still reported to the police who mounted an investigation.

These things are not all, however. I also get constant threats of legal action (as everything that is published is legally watertight, none have ever come to anything).

I rarely sue (although I do sometimes) unless the online message is particularly outrageous, and contains a libel (which most do). Some can be rebutted in court using an “honest comment” defence (formerly known as “fair comment”), yet most cannot, which means that any libel case is likely to be successful.

Some people just don’t like what is said

But the offensive observations (or threats) I receive are just part and parcel of life for an investigative journalist.

Unfortunately these, as well as actual assaults or jail in autocratic countries, also seem to be part of life for other journalists around the world, if the latest figures are anything to go by…

 

The memories of Phil’s extraordinary decades long award-winning career in journalism (when stories often upset his targets) as he was gripped by the rare neurological disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A Good Story’. Order it now. 

‘READ MY BOOK!’

A different book, though, has not been published, because it was to have included names.

Tomorrow – how the controversial head of a Welsh university which hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and where staff say they are “too frightened to talk” publicly, has been named as the third highest paid person in the public sector rich list in Wales this year, despite the fact she has announced she is quitting, blamed the strain on her family life, and admitted that her institution is a “work in progress”.