It would have been oh so easy to award this week’s Wankley to News Limited for their “Please explain: (not) Pauline Hanson nude” debacle. You may have heard something about it. But this week’s award goes to an international recipient, which is a rare occurrence. You really do have to be über-Wankley worthy to even be nominated. This isn’t the Oscars — there’s no obligatory Best Foreign Wankley category round these parts.

Last Friday the 13th was the 13th anniversary of the Dunblane Primary School massacre; an event that shocked Scotland and the rest of the world. A crazed gunman — who doesn’t even deserve to be named here — walked into Dunblane Primary School and murdered 16 young children and their teacher before committing suicide. Miraculously, there were survivors in the — seemingly chosen at random — gym class on that fateful day. Some shot kids didn’t die. That week, the UK Press Complaints Commission issued a memo — how quaint — to the media reminding them of their legal obligations to protect those five and six-year-old survivors from the possibility of further distress by media intrusion.

Those kids have just turned 18 so now would be the perfect time for an inspirational follow-up report on how they’d coped with dealing with the aftermath of such a horrific ordeal, right? Well, it would be if you weren’t Scottish Sunday Express reporter Paula Murray. Unbelievably, Murray filed — and editor Derek Lambie approved — a front page story headlined “Anniversary Shame of Dunblane Survivors”. Murray — get this — scoured the social networking website pages of two of those survivors and reported they’d “shamed the memory of their dead peers” by “posting shocking images of themselves on the internet” and boasting about “drunken nights out” and “discovering s-x”. Teenagers being teenagers, in other words.

The print article was published on 8 March. Despite not yet apologising or even admitting a lack of judgement in this instance, it appears the Express has pulled the article from their website. However, since the story made it into print, scanned PDF copies are doing the rounds online.

Well — to use our Prime Minister’s vernacular — this quality piece of journalism has caused a sh-tstorm in the UK. The Press Complaints Commission is investigating the Sunday Express after receiving complaints, including two from the families of the survivors who had their personal details splashed all over the tabloid’s front page.

These types of “exclusive” reports appear to be indicative of a new trend in modern journalism. Harsh budget cutbacks have made media outlets less keen to go after “the big end of town”. Legal advice is increasingly being considered an expensive luxury, not a necessity. It’s hardly surprising the era of top quality, public interest investigative reporting — most famously practised by Woodward and Bernstein to reveal the Watergate scandal — is over.

Now the media is more comfortable kicking “the little guy” and — as I noted last month — there’s an abundance of information freely available on the internet to aid them.

Unlike Murray –- who is accused of not even contacting the survivours featured in her scoop — I attempted to contact the Sunday Express for comment without reply. I’m guessing they’ve got bigger issues to deal with this week.

It’s been quite a week for shoddy journalism. Here in Australia, “Hansongate” rumbles on, while in the UK Scottish Sunday Express editor Lambie risks further ire by blaming bloggers for the Dunblane article furore. Bloggers have mounted an impressive — but admittedly at times petty — campaign against this piece of disgusting reportage. There’s a sense we’re at an interesting juncture and we all need to consider the type of media we want in the future.

Will authorities finally act to censure media outlets found to have twisted the truth for their own ends? Or will it be business as usual? This isn’t about censorship, it’s about common decency.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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