After a 23 year career with BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW), and 38 years in journalism, (when he was trained to use clear and simple language, avoiding jargon), here our Editor Phil Parry looks again at the astonishing level of abuse investigative journalists like him now endure online.
Earlier he has 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 made 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.
It seems a shame to have to highlight, again, the unbelievable amount of abuse I or journalists on the website I edit The Eye, endure.
This has all been made worse over the last few years, by the growth in social media.
Some people apparently do not want certain facts brought into the open, and I believe it is right to remind readers that I have a broad back, as well as the fact that every piece has been double-checked by our libel lawyers.
If anything, the torrent of insults is increasing!
My Wikipedia entry has recently been vandalised to include the words ‘tool’ and ‘knob head’, and two days ago I was compared on Twitter to the comedy broadcaster Alan Partridge.
The Wikepedia entry has now been restored to its original form, after officials removed the abusive words.
The Alan Partridge comment was 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).
A few weeks ago, another remark which concerned a television ‘reporter’ who had posted pictures of herself on Facebook (FB) or Twitter in skimpy clothes, is typical of the insults we constantly receive: “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”.
Indeed accusations of being ‘misogynistic’ (which is the correct spelling) or ‘misogynist’ are a constant refrain among those who hurl offensive comments, if factual stories are published with the targets happening to be women, yet these are potentially libellous words, and the description is provably wrong.
In the past 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 remarks come amid many others. Too many, in fact, to mention.
I rarely sue (although I do sometimes) unless the online message is particularly outrageous, and contains a libel (which most of them do).
Some can be rebutted in court using an “honest comment” defence (formerly known as “fair comment”), however most cannot, which means that any libel case is likely to be successful.
Perpetrators of this abuse appear to be unaware of the legal ramifications of their statements, and say the most appalling things online (which, of course, have been PUBLISHED to a third party so the rules apply).
It seems to be easier to make insulting remarks when a button is pressed, than it might be to consider what is being said, put pen to paper, and find a stamp, in order to send a letter.
All I can do is persevere with my investigations, and bring what is happening into the light.
The abuse seems unlikely to stop…
The memories of Phil’s decades long award-winning career in journalism (when online abuse was rare at the beginning) as he was gripped by the incurable neurological condition, Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!
Publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.