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Tuesday, May 19, 2009 

Scum-watch: More on Alfie Patten.

It's a real shame that the revelation that the Sun's story concerning Alfie Patten has been shown to be completely wrong isn't getting the attention it deserves, with the continuing row over MPs expenses overshadowing it, because the account of what actually seems to have happened continues to worsen.

In what seems to be a growing pattern of newspapers promising payments for stories only to later then renege on the details, it now appears that the Sun did not pay Patten's parents any money for the story. Whether this was because they had no intention of doing so, knowing that it would breach the Press Complaints Commission's code if they did is unclear, and it has to be said we are relying on the distinctly unreliable Max Clifford for the allegation that the paper had promised a large sum of money for the story which it then failed to stump up (his claim that he stopped the coverage seems to be erroneous; social services got a court order which definitely did stop it). The Guardian does however confirm that the paper has now promised that it will set-up a trust fund for the child itself, which distinctly suggests that considering that Patten will now presumably have no involvement with the bringing up of the child, no payment is going to be made to either him or his parents.

Clifford, for once, does seem to be on the side of justice in this case. In a previous interview with the Graun, he said that he had started representing the Patten family because of the tabloid mob which was trying to desperately get their own side of the story, trying his best to curb the excesses they were resorting to. Whether if they had gone to him first rather than to the Sun he would hold the same view is questionable, but when even Clifford thinks that a story should never have been published you ought to sit up and take notice.

The Sun, predictably, still sees no shame in what it has subjected a 13-year-old boy to as a result of both their greed and his parents' initial attempts to gain financially from the situation they seemed to have found themselves in. There is no apology in today's paper, and no editorial comment defending their reporting of the story, which is even more pathetic than if they were bothering to defend their journalism. There is however, remarkably, a comment from the paper's agony aunt attached to the main piece on the story, headlined "[K]ids who are given no sense of values". A more applicable headline would be "Journalists who are given no sense of values", as quite clearly Rebekah Wade, a woman who has repeatedly campaigned supposedly on the behalf of children, such as for Sarah's law, saw nothing wrong with paying (or rather, not) for a story about teenage pregnancy when they hadn't bothered to even ascertain the basic facts or to give even the slightest thought to what the publicity they were about to come under would do those involved's already fractured psyches.

The not paying for the story or paying less than promised is not just a Sun technique, but is now seemingly increasingly a ploy used by all the tabloids. Most recently the Sunday Express apparently refused to pay for their exclusive about Jacqui Smith's husband claiming for watching two pornographic films on expenses, which came from the same source whom has since sold the full details to the Telegraph. Prior to that, the News of the World paid a lesser sum than promised to the dominatrix who secretly filmed Max Mosley taking part in an orgy, for which he subsequently successfully sued on privacy grounds. Most indefensibly, the News of the Screws also, despite signing a contract with Iraq veteran Justin Smith for an interview, worth £15,000, then tore it up and said they would "only pay £1,000, £1,500 tops".

These are the same people, it's worth bearing in mind, who are currently raging against members of parliament for their expenses fiddles and lies. Despite everything that can be justifiably thrown at MPs, none of their claims have directly affected individual lives; when newspapers renege on deals and use and abuse the likes of Alfie Patten, they care nothing for the damage they leave in their wake. The only way we will get the root and branch reform that is required in all areas of our political culture is not just through a general election, as the Sun is calling for, but through the throwing out also of the media barons that have done just as much if not more to coarsen and diminish our representatives while also thwarting reform that threatens them as much as it does those with their noses in the trough. Any reform that focuses only on parliament and not on the media also is doomed to failure.

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