It has not been a good week for London’s finest. The Metropolitan Police have been in the firing line, twice, in just a few days.
Firstly, they have been accused of contributing to the the death of a newspaper seller, who had a heart attack soon after being pushed to the ground, by an officer policing the unrest at the G20 summit last week. An officer has now been suspended, while a full investigation is carried out into the incident.
Today, the head of the anti-terrorism unit, Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, was forced to announce his resignation after being photographed leaving his car in Downing Street, while on his way to a meeting with the prime minister. He had inadvertently let photographers ‘snap’ him when he was carrying a document marked ‘Top Secret’ outlining a suspected terrorist plot.
While both of these incidents stem from individual moments of stupidity, what they have in common, is how they have been escalated so quickly by the way the media has handled them.
The first incident was recorded on video by a passing tourist who sent it to the media. The resulting images were immediately transmitted to the masses and helped generate the present outcry. Of course, as we know from televised sporting events, video taken from just one angle does not always show the true story and one could argue that there should have been a modicum of restraint before full publication took place.
In the case of Bob Quick, the detail on the paper in the photo could not have been read, unless image enhancement techniques were applied. The media could have shown more responsibility and withheld the story in the interest of National Security but instead they decided to expose the stupid error “blundering Bob” had made.
If we are all to continue to enjoy the basic right of freedom of speech and if we are to avoid laws denying us the right to take photographs openly in the streets, the editorial teams in our media are going to have to work a bit harder to curb their enthusiasm for a quick and easily exploitable story.
Freedom of speech is a delicate balancing act and there are plenty of politicians who would love an excuse to make us all slip from the wire!