Monday, 12 July 2010

Raoul Moat reaction...

The case of Raoul Moat is definitely tragic. Sad, even. But for whom?

While we all deliberate on the actions of police, the media, even Gazza during the saga, let's not forget what started the whole sorry episode - Raoul Moat himself.

Just look at the facts, if letters from the man himself are to be believed.

He shot his ex-girlfriend after hearing her slagging him off (do remember that he was squatting under her living room window with a gun when he heard her). He then shot her new boyfriend, before shooting a completely innocent policeman, twice.

Not only that. Again, if his own words are to be believed, he "declared war" on Northumbria Police and as the saga unfolded (as we understand it) also threatened members of the public.

Ironically, details of his threats against the public were only revealed after an agreed media blackout by the very outlets Moat was attempting to use as justification for his actions - just as the media had not reported police beliefs that he held hostages.

I am not a police expert, so will leave any comment on the force's actions to the IPCC, save to say that quite frankly, if these events did not warrant the biggest manhunt ever seen, then what the hell does?

The media however, is a completely different matter.

In her excellent comment piece for the Guardian, Barbara Ellen talks about our fascination with such cases, following events on the rolling news channels, online, and in newspapers.

While not entirely sure about her pseudo-psychiatric ramblings about the male psyche, her points about our own bizarre desire to almost 'live' the events, our fascination by them, are enlightening.

She wrote: "I first realised that something felt different when a message alert came up on the television saying that police had Moat surrounded. When did it become routine to put out trailers for real-life tragedies? It worked, though. Did you, like me, turn over to find that footage was scarce, the time filled by Rothbury locals gathered outside a pub? Certain media people even commented on the bizarre "carnival atmosphere", which was a bit rude.

"This was their patch – the people of Rothbury were entitled to gather for a beer and a chat. Which wasn't true for the rest of us, including me, idly gawping, as if I'd stumbled upon an old Inspector Morse. What was I waiting for – a bit of drama in my feeble little life?"

And we, journalists, do indeed follow these things in a detached way, as if it is not really happening.

Dare I say we even enjoy it, thrive on the drama and long for the most dramatic outcome possible?

I think we do. But does that lead to inaccurate and insensitive reporting and an almost insane desire to see, hear and read anything, no matter how speculative?

Some certainly think so.

Raoul Moat's brother, Angus, declared himself to Sky News as "probably the only person in the UK who has watched their brother die on television, which is obviously horrific".

He added: "It's all hotting up, you've got this constant round-the-clock news, it's like the whipping up to what could be a public execution in modern Britain of my little brother."

Does he have a point? I think he probably does.

But does that mean we (the media) have to change? I am unconvinced.

Yes, Angus Moat was angry, that is only to be expected, and of course he is looking for reasons for what happened and perhaps throwing accusations around in some sort of denial of what his brother did.

Yet the irony remains that he made these points, these accusations, to the very media outlets he is condemning. Perhaps that is the only way. But that rule also applies to police forces tracking someone down. Someone who claims to have already killed and is reported to have pledged to kill more.

We can't have it both ways. Either we have a news media capable of delivering a blanket message or we don't. We can't then attempt to hand-pick that message, or the manner in which it is delivered, within the bounds of the law, due to some sort of over-arching sense of 'bad taste'.
If these news organisations thrive by providing the coverage they do, it is for one reason only; the public absorbs every little bit of it.

And the public, in one way or another, also presents its own view via mass media. As I write there are countless groups set up on facebook paying tribute to Raoul Moat, as if he has assumed some sort of cult-like status as a wronged man, driven by his own heartbreak and low self esteem, which may well have been the case of course.

As Angus Moat told Sky: "You know this is my brother who's not a psycho killer like some of the press have been suggesting."

So, should these types of outpourings also be banned? Surely, if the portrayal of Moat as a "psycho killer" are wrong and produce some sort of negative backlash for the wanted man, then the same could be said of those wishing to portray him as a "...a person, he's a brother, he's a son, he's a father. He's a man who's had a nervous breakdown", as Angus went on to describe his brother?

Again, we can't have it both ways. The very freedom that allows Angus and Raoul's friends to have their say is the very same that allows his mother to claim he would be "better off dead" and the media to show events completely live, as they happen.

There are other families to consider of course, the family of murdered Chris Brown, of injured Sam Stobbart and PC David Rathband.

If we are to consider Moat and his family when presenting information, we should also consider them. And to present him as someone who has simply suffered a breakdown would, to me, appear equally insensitive when that is replayed in front of a family coming to terms with the loss of someone who is also a person and a son, for what they feel is no good reason.

The police, obviously, have made no response. That will come in the form of the IPCC report on the investigation and actions taken.

But perhaps most tragically, responses can also not come from Raoul Moat. Or Chris Brown.

Who is this case sad for? All of us. And none of us should seek to blame anyone else in an attempt to avoid asking ourselves why.

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