A claim that a Conservative aide was assaulted outside the Leeds hospital where a sick boy was forced to lie on the floor was untrue, but the source of this disinformation is still not known, writes Brian Wilson.
When elections are over, campaign mini-dramas are usually forgotten as not worth pursuing. I suggest one exception because of its wider significance.
This flows from the case of the child on the floor of a Leeds hospital and Boris Johnson’s unfortunate interview. As a diversion, Tory spin-doctors fed Britain’s most senior political journalists, the BBC’s Laura Kuessenberg and ITN’s Robert Peston, a fake story about an aide to the Health Secretary being assaulted outside the hospital.
Both immediately disseminated this disinformation. When video footage showed it to be untrue, they apologised. By then, a coup had been accomplished by their Tory sources. These facts are not disputed. It is the wider issue of media ethics that interests me. Why should journalists not identify the sources of false information which, in many cases, is the only story worth telling?
Instead the ritual is to parrot the principle of “not disclosing sources”. But this reduces that principle to a charter for lazy journalists and unscrupulous sources.
Protecting sources is a noble concept when it involves people who have put themselves at risk in the public interest. It has absolutely no relevance where journalists have been used as dupes to spread falsehoods. A code of conduct is urgently needed to make that crucial distinction and Ofcom should look at this episode as a classic example of how viewers require protection from “fake news”. As long as there is a free pass for those who “brief” with anonymity and impunity, the public will be misled and trust will diminish. There is no point bemoaning “fake news” if there is no sanction against those who promote it and the most effective sanction is exposure.