A news story like the murder of Clifton landscape architect Joanna Yeates has many elements that the media love: a photogenic blonde, a tragic death, an unexplained murder, a killer on the loose, tantalising clues. What many news organisations did not report was the full statement made by her boyfriend Greg Reardon on January 1:
“Jo’s life was cut short tragically but the finger-pointing and character assassination by social and news media of as yet innocent men has been shameful. It has made me lose a lot of faith in the morality of the British press and those that spend their time fixed to the internet in this modern age.
“I hope in the future they will show a more sensitive and impartial view to those involved in such heart-breaking events and especially in the lead-up to potentially high profile court cases.”
It was a bold and brave thing to say, because in a case like this, the media can get very carried away over the hunt for an exclusive, running roughshod over the laws of the land in the process.
But it is through the media that the public have largely been kept abreast of the latest goings-on. First there was the hunt for Jo, then the discovery of her body on Longwood Lane in Failand, and now the continued hunt for her killer or killers.
Jo’s face has been on the front pages of newspapers every day so far this year. And her story continues to feature prominently on the radio and television news, and in people’s conversations.
Outside her flat on Canynge Road (above), the press pack watch every single event, cameras pointed to forensic officers in white suits or reporters with their back to the action talking about a pizza box, sock or landlord.
This afternoon, there were four television vans parked on Canynge Road. Unlike many roads in Clifton, it is surprisingly wide so the vans and journalists – I counted more than 20 including reporters, cameramen and technicians – can be easily accommodated.
Yesterday, ITN were barred from attending a police press conference because of a report on the previous night’s ITV News at Ten which Avon and Somerset Police took offence to.
That ban has now been lifted, but it sets a dangerous precedent. If the police only invite media organisations who they like to press conferences, the news will become no more than carefully controlled PR puff.
For example, it was only yesterday that police revealed that Jo’s body was found with a solitary sock when discovered on Longwood Lane (left) near the entrance of Durnford Quarry on Christmas Day.
It is the nature of the beast that journalists will always look for new angles, and the police sometimes do not help themselves by holding back information.
The brief banning of ITN could only have come from Avon and Somerset Chief Constable Colin Port, a man who is deeply distrustful of the media and whose force has previous form in banning journalists from press conferences.
In 2007, freelance journalist Simon Trump was uninvited from a press conference about bodies being exhumed at Parkfields care home near Glastonbury. He was told that only journalists that the force have good working relationships with and could trust were welcome.
BBC Points West’s Steve Brodie has also incurred the wrath of Port after broadcasting a story alleging corruption. Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger subsequently raised the allegations in Parliament, while Port banned his officers from speaking to Brodie or indeed anyone from the BBC.
The Avon and Somerset press office are stuck in the middle of baying journalists and a boss who enforces a culture of conflict between police and the media.
ITN may have been the first organisation banned from a press conference about the Jo investigation, but at an earlier press conference, news agency PA, whose copy makes up much national newspaper coverage, were “accidentally” not invited.
“With any big story there is always a thirst for a new line or one that’s different to everyone else,” a journalist with many years’ experience of working in Bristol said.
“The pressure to break the latest news from a press conference is huge – from newsdesk and other news organisations clambering for a line. That pressure is increasingly intensified as social media like Twitter become the most immediate news channel. Reporters text lines to desk, or update their Twitter feeds as the press conference is being held.
“You’re not only competing against each other but also the spread of news online, blogs, Twitter and Facebook. It’s fastest finger first.”
She was last seen at the Bristol Ram pub on Park Street and called in at several shops on her way home to Canynge Road.
Her body was found at 9am on Christmas Day 2010 at a roadside verge off Longwood Lane, Failand, by a local couple who were walking their dog.
If you have any information which could help the investigation please contact the Operation Braid incident room online.
Alternatively, telephone 0845 456 7000.