Phillip Schofield is not Jeremy Paxman. To many, this is abundantly clear, but unfortunately Phillip Schofield is not among that number. By handing David Cameron a list of alleged paedophiles garnered from an evening’s casual googling, he was attempting to make the considerable leap from presenting Dancing On Ice to making a splash in the real world.
Perhaps he thought it would help? That it might lead to a conviction? But it looks rather like he and the This Morning team were using a cheap stunt to garner even cheaper attention.
Using these events in such a way is distasteful and morally questionable. The programme has been widely criticised, and rightly so. Sensationalism, particularly in the context of so emotionally charged a news story, is dangerous and unhelpful.
For instance, Rebekah Brook’s contribution to this debate back in 2001 resulted in a doctor being hounded out of her home: apparently “paediatrician” looks a lot like “paedophile” to a busy tabloid editor. What’s more, allegations of this kind hang around like an invidious miasma, even if they are subsequently proven false.
Wafting names around on national television not only shows a cavalier disregard for the process of justice, but also risks permanently damaging the reputations of innocent people.
That’s not to say that all people on the list are guiltless. The point is that we may never know. This is very much a question of using reliable sources. Although the internet has undoubtedly made gathering information very easy, trawling forums and comment boards for prurient muck will produce just that: muck. Dragging it out from the bowels of cyberspace and dressing it up as investigative journalism gives it a gravity and an exposure that it does not warrant.
A hungover skim read of Wikipedia may help avoid awkward questions at your next seminar, but responsible journalism requires both discernment and judgement. The fact that, just a few days later, Newsnight wrongly accused a former Tory politician of involvement in child abuse at a Welsh care home during the 1980s demonstrates that even the most experienced of reporters can still make serious mistakes.
At a time when journalism and the free press are being scrutinised as never before, the gross stupidity of this stunt should have been all the more apparent.
At a time when journalism and the free press are being scrutinised as never before, the gross stupidity of this stunt should have been all the more apparent. In playing at being a journalist, and against the backdrop of a BBC in turmoil, Phillip Schofield has inadvertently shown what a good job Jeremy Paxman normally does. Hopefully, he’ll emulate him more successfully in the future.