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.

The police have carefully drip-fed news about this case and obviously want to control the media reporting as best they can.

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.”

Throughout all this media furore, we must remember that a 25-year-old woman was murdered. Jo Yeates (right) went missing from her home in Canynge Road, Clifton on Friday, December 17.

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.

7 Responses so far.

  1. I’m not sure if this post is about the tragic loss of this young woman, Jo Yeates, or a pathetic whinge in favour of the media.

    • Abdul Basir says:

      How is this a pathetic whinge? This is a blog post, not Crimestoppers, and it is arguing for the freedom of information.

  2. Paul says:

    @Martin

    It’s exactly what it says it is, a bit of background behind the scrum. I was interested in her boyfriend’s entirely true and totally ignored extended statement.

    The police can’t have it both ways if the media can’t. I wish today’s journalists were better trained in media law and the art of getting a good story rather than trawling Twitter and Facebook but banning ITN was an idiotic and overly defensive move which made the force involved look amateur.

    Police and media have a duty to work together intelligently. Lessons to be learned on both sides.

  3. Tony says:

    It’s about what it says on the packet: media issues surrounding the Jo Yeates case. Whilst respecting the police’s right to conduct the investigation as they see fit, it is a matter of legitimate concern that media outlets are barred from press conferences (something you might expect in Iran but not here). So not a pathetic whinge but a thought-provoking article.

  4. emily says:

    very interesting article, reflecting what a weird couple of weeks it has been in the news world.
    RIP Jo, and let’s hope whoever did it doesn’t strike again.

  5. Interesting piece. I was in the West over Christmas and New Year visiting family and saw the nightly broadcasts and read the papers on the case. What struck me was the same point made in the piece about how the media outlets were speculating on the case. Also, maybe from a limited study, how the local media outlets (broadcast and print) were following the lead of the big players, there appeared to be little in the way of “local” independence about how the case was covered or anything new being said or revealed by the locals. I posted my observations on my media blog http://tinyurl.com/2vhhesz

  6. Mabel Thorpe says:

    ITV were banned because some ex Det, who told everyone he was a Murder Squad detective, passed stupid comments about the enquiry, which were very inacurate, which made him look a fool. Brodie was excluded for the same reasons and gave away information he was requested not to do. Colin Port did the right thing, ITV told porkies about the experience of Williams who appears to have invented his qualifications tyo suit the program.

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