Sunday 2 September 2018

The Lady With The Red Hair

Or, how Sky News abused their power and monstered a member of the public. This is a guest post from Paul. For reasons that will become obvious I have not used full names, and the comrade at the centre of this is referred to as N.

I’m not usually a writer of blogs, in fact if you asked me I’d probably struggle explaining the conventions of a blog. Sometimes though, things happen that cause so much disruption and has such a profound effect upon your world that you have to document it somehow. Hopefully by the end of this you’ll see why I’ve chosen a blog. Apologies in advance if it isn’t of the quality you usually read as I try and put our experience into words.

The incident happened fourteen days ago. I understand that its relevance is diminishing even as I type this but it is still timely for us. I’d have liked to have written something before now but the impact and chain of events that has since occurred has precluded me from doing so. We are still awaiting further correspondence but we are in a calmer place (for now). I also hope that in writing this it helps me order my thoughts and feelings as it’s been a very difficult time. I suppose the motivation for doing this is to get our experiences out there in the hope that that it may prevent others falling foul of the same. In an ideal world I’d like it to be part of a body of evidence that safeguards against such events happening again, or at least makes explicit guidance that is out there for others that find themselves in a similar predicament.

On Tuesday 14th August our world was turned upside down due to seven seconds, one word and the agenda of Sky News.

On that day my family and I went to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak at Stoke City’s Football Ground. Little did we know what impact an event during that day would have on us.

As a teacher in the middle of the holidays I was able to attend, and I took our boys with me as we’d decided it would be a good experience for them (my wife, N, and an interested colleague from her work was going to meet us there). My boys and I arrived there early as I’d received a message that due to the response they’d had to sort a larger venue and may need help setting the room out. As it turned out the help wasn’t required but this meant that we were near the front of the queue.

When N arrived she joined the queue (she was easily spotted as she has bright red hair) I sent one of the lads to see her. Being typically British she didn’t want to be perceived as jumping the queue so told me she’d see us in there. We got in, got good seats and waited for my wife and her friend. Whilst we were waiting I bumped into the legend that is Nello, we had a good chat and being a good friend of his, arranged to give him a lift home after the event. When N finally entered I became concerned as she looked pale, anxious and visibly shaken.

As the event was about to start we weren’t able to discuss what had happened in any great detail but she anxiously explained that she and her friend had been approached by a Sky News Reporter in the queue and was asked questions. She told me that she thought the questions would be of the generic ‘Why are you here?’ ‘Why do you support Jeremy?’ type. I listened agog though when she told me that the questions had been quite pointed regarding Anti-Semitism, and that she’d also felt quite intimidated by the tone and delivery. She told me that during the questioning she’d mistakenly said that Jeremy had won the Nobel Peace Prize and that the reporter had jumped straight on this and questioned her, she had looked to her friend to check and clarify this, realised her mistake and corrected herself saying she knew that he had received a peace prize that year. My wife said that the reporter’s response to her comment and the change in his demeanour set alarm bells ringing. She discussed this with her friend and then went back to the reporter, she explained that she didn’t want the clip using (she still had her works lanyard on as well and used this as another reason as to why she didn’t want her clip to be used). The reporter said ‘Sure that’s fine’ but N wasn’t very reassured by his response so she approached a member of the event organisers and told her what had happened and asked if she could clarify that the clip wouldn’t be used. The organiser said that it should be okay but she’d catch up with the reporter when she could and ensure that this was the case.

Despite this, we were pleased with the event. All speakers spoke extremely well, N was incredibly impressed with the ideas that were discussed and even our lads were kept interested by the whole experience. As a teacher myself I was really interested and impressed with what Jeremy was speaking about regarding the founding principles of the proposed National Education Service and will look forward to see how this will develop.

After the event N left with my youngest to drop her friend back to her car and I waited with my eldest to take Nello home. Nello always has a group of fans and well-wishers around him, so I waited awhile and was able to speak to and exchange details with some of the people that was still around. Good old Nello! One of the phone numbers in particular would end up being a great help with what would later ensue.

Later that evening when we were all at home, N let me know that she’d caught up with the organiser she had spoken to earlier but had unfortunately been told that the member of staff wasn't able to catch up with the reporter. The mood in the house became one of anxiousness as we discussed what had happened and realised we’d have to put Sky News on. In hindsight whilst it may have been a little na├»ve to speak to the Sky reporter in the first instance N was savvy enough to trust her gut instinct and know that the reporter would use the clip. We put Sky News on at 19:15 and didn’t have long to wait to have our worries materialised because at 19:20 there she was.

Throughout life many events stay engrained within our memories. Unfortunately, seeing the effect the initial clip had upon N will never leave me. We watched sickened as N’s misrepresented image was displayed in close-up upon our TV screen. Even now (despite being a teacher of fourteen years) I find it difficult to put into words the emotions I felt as N saw herself on screen, as she then broke down and staggered through our now claustrophobic living room to the back door to get some air. I don’t think that feeling of hopelessness will ever leave me. What could I say to her? How could I say everything would be okay knowing that this clip was part of a piece that would be rolled out every thirty minutes on Sky News. We sat there numb and helpless, our laughter was hollow and short lived when to break the silence I told her ‘At least you look good!’. It wasn’t long though before the phone calls from family and friends started to happen as she was recognised from the clip.

Following a sleepless night, the next morning was horrendous. I don’t know how she did it but N managed to get out of bed, dug deep and found the strength to go into work despite being up most of the night and being physically sick in the morning. Still numb and unbelieving of our situation, I set out trying to find out what we could do to stop the nightmare scenario that had unfurled in front of us. I knew I shouldn’t have looked but I did, Twitter was awash with insults and snide comments about the Cult of Corbyn and by the looks of it N was the poster girl. The trolls were having a field day berating members of the Labour Party and using the clip of N to do so. I won’t comment on the content of some of the tweets as N will read this blog but I’m sure you can imagine how horrendous some of them were. It felt like the situation was escalating uncontrollably and this wasn’t helping me or our predicament. I quickly found that there was no ‘One Stop Shop’ for such situations. Here I was, in a scenario that was completely alien to me. I knew I had to do something but where to start? What should I do first? Lack of sleep, growing anxiety and feelings of isolation had stopped me thinking straight. Then I remembered that I had exchanged phone numbers with one of the speakers the night before. I gave him a call.

The person I rang was Mark McDonald. Mark is the newly-chosen PPC for Stoke South Labour Party who’d spoken passionately and eloquently at the event. He was obviously very busy yet he listened patiently and made time for me. He calmly asked me questions about what had happened, advised me of some of the options we had but told me that I should look at getting the clip taken off air in the first instance. His manner and advice helped me cut through the feelings of confusion and helplessness and I was able to create a to-do list.

The first step was to find the email of the correct person to complain to at Sky News. This was no mean feat. You won’t be surprised to find that it is far easier to report a potential news item to Sky or a set-top malfunction than it is to complain about the content of a piece that they have broadcast. After much browsing and frantic searching I found an email address. The next issue was what phrasing and terminology we needed to include in the email to accurately convey our complaint. This was found a little easier by looking at the Ipso and Ofcom site which had guides to help. The email of complaint focused on the issues of misrepresentation and the fact that N had revoked permission for the clip that was used. During this time I’d been speaking to N who despite having understanding and supportive friends at work was struggling and had broken down multiple times that day. We’d discussed the content of the email and despite it bouncing back we’d got it through to another and received a reply telling us that the broadcasting of the clip would be suspended whilst an investigation occurred. A couple of hours later I noticed that the Sun had tweeted a link to their website which was running the Sky clips of the ‘Cult of Corbyn’. I sent an email to Sky News asking how the clip could be used if Sky had pulled the clip. I received an email back explaining that they had no control of the other News platforms but would contact them and ask. By this stage we were almost overwhelmed by events but the news of the clip being taken off Sky platforms had given us a little breathing space and we were able to complete the complaint to Ofcom which we were also able to send off.

During this time we were still fielding calls from family and friends, N was in a temporarily better place though and to help stem the calls and messages she decided, and was able, to put an excellent update on Facebook that was heartfelt, articulate and explained what had happened. As the replies and messages of support came through it felt like we had turned a corner. We had received lovely messages from across our spectrum of family, friends and colleagues. She also received a heartfelt message of support from our local MP Gareth Snell and also from local councillors in the area (she had even received a lovely message from our local Conservative councillor, who we know). Some of our friends were so outraged they took to Twitter and tried to get her story out there ‘I’d also been trying to get the truth of the situation out on Twitter and tweeting people but wasn’t really getting anywhere’. The irony wasn’t lost on us that whilst it was social media that had affectedly me so negatively that morning it was now social media that was helping N feel more upbeat and supported. Unfortunately this upbeat moment was short-lived.

On the Thursday we received an email back from Sky News saying that they disagreed with the point that N had been misrepresented and that ‘the exchange as broadcast accurately reflected your initial belief that Mr Corbyn had won the Nobel Peace Prize’. Regarding the permission aspect of the complaint they put it down to a communication issue as ‘it seems that there may have been a breakdown in communications with our reporter’ and that her concern regarding her lanyard had been taken into account and her ID badge wasn’t shown. What they did say however was ‘While we do not agree with your assessment of the way your contribution was featured we do not want to be the cause of any additional distress. As previously advised we have removed your contribution from our platforms and will mark it in our library as not for future use.’ Now I’m certainly not an expert in law surrounding broadcast media but to me the email we received looked to shout down our issue of misrepresentation and sought to create enough ambiguity between N and the reporter’s interaction that we wouldn’t pursue it any further. Whether the pulling of the clip and not using it further was them showing concern for N’s mental health or was to stop us taking it any further I don’t know. My initial thoughts were we were being expertly ‘fobbed off’ but at that stage and in the emotional tumble dryer we were in I was just happy that they weren’t using it any more. I read the email to N in the morning when we received it. In the afternoon, she phoned me back and was in an emotional state, she has never suffered from anxiety or panic attacks but that day she’d had a couple of moments where she’d become anxious and had experienced heart palpitations. On the Friday things seemed to be calming down, it seemed the news machine was rolling on and the trolls were moving with it. Due to the phone calls and messages of support N was feeling a little better about it all. We’d been invited to a friend’s wedding away in Chesterfield and whilst we’d debated whether we were still going to go or not we decided that getting away from the house for a little while would be good for us. As it turned out it was the best decision we could have made, especially due to what happened next.

The wedding was excellent, we’d dropped the boys off at my parents’ in Nottingham and had booked a hotel room close to the venue. Catching up with friends, having a drink and a dance was just the tonic, after enduring what we’d gone through seeing my wife smile again, enjoying herself and light up the room filled me with hope that perhaps we might actually get through it. Later that evening I received a text from a friend who informed me that The Last Leg had played N’s clip on their show. I couldn’t believe it and just felt numb, luckily N’s phone had died and I was able to keep it from her whilst she enjoyed the rest of the night. I didn’t know how I was going to tell her in the morning, not only was this going to devastate her but to add insult to injury she was a big fan of Adam Hills and the show. The only positive I could take from this horrendous predicament was that if we’d been at home she’d have been watching the programme on TV.

I dreaded telling her in the morning, we’d had a great night and this morning she was smiling, I knew I had to though as her phone was now charged and I just knew she would have messages. I’m struggling to put into words the thoughts and emotions we had to endure that morning, but hearing my partner say ‘I just wanna go away somewhere and die.’ seriously affected me. I had to plead with her to come to breakfast with me as she didn’t want to leave the room. I thought we’d been through the worst of it but here it was. Looking back I think the events of that morning changed something inside of me, the last four days had had us swinging back and forth like a pendulum between fight and flight with a constant dose of overthinking thrown in for good measure. I think seeing my fun loving, beautiful and caring wife reduced to this fragile, broken shell of a woman hardened me. I had a moment of clarity, there was no way financially or emotionally we could legally challenge Sky over what they had done, we were the little people, if they were willing to edit and broadcast her without permission what chance would we have against such lawyers? I had to make sure my wife was going to be okay but at the same time knew we couldn’t let this beat us I had to try and at least get her story out there, I couldn’t wait weeks for a small apology that didn’t mean anything and changed nothing. Bizarrely whilst I hadn’t seen it I was buoyed by the amount of negative comments The Last Leg was receiving from folk that were upset at the attack on Jeremy Corbyn. Twitter folk were fighting back, already there was a tonic to the ‘Cult of Corbyn’ despite the situation I smiled when I saw the #Cultofgivingashit.

In the hotel, I started writing the email on my phone that we’d use to complain about the Channel Four clip. After I’d written the main bulk of it I realised that I had the basis of our story. The penny dropped, previously I was trying to get her story out there within the characters of a tweet. I realised that I’d have use Twitter in a smarter way. I direct messaged some of the larger Twitter accounts who I followed and who had followed me back, followers who might be interested in helping. I also tried to contact some of the independent media who might be interested in getting involved. Then I remembered Andrew Tiernan.

Andrew Tiernan is an actor/director/writer and all round top man who aside from performing some excellent roles, had also written and directed some quality films. In UK18 (a really dark and powerful dystopian film) he directs The Artist Taxi Driver Mark McGowen and Jason Williamson in a horrifying Orwellian nightmare of a film (tough but well worth a watch). N and I are massive Chunky Mark fans and watch him often on Twitter, I thought if anyone could get her truth out there Mark would be our best shot. I didn’t know if it’d do anything but perhaps Andrew could put us in contact with Mark, it was at least worth a try. I direct messaged Andrew using part of the email I’d started for Channel Four and wrote a breakdown of what had happened and pressed send.

On the drive back to pick up the boys I messaged Mark McDonald and told him about The Last Leg and what had been happening, he was excellent, offered us his support and asked if we wanted to meet up for a coffee. We arranged to meet up the following day. Whilst in Nottingham I received a message back from Andrew Tiernan. He'd not only passed on the details of what had happened but was really supportive. I couldn’t believe it! A little later Chunky Mark messaged me back and was really sympathetic and said he’d do what he could. The turn of events just seemed to be getting more surreal by the hour. On the one hand I was feeling hopeful and started to believe that maybe we’d get the truth out there on the other I was still deeply concerned and worried about N. When we got home we started fighting back, Chunky Mark had messaged me asking me to let him know what we wanted to put out there so I started on that. N was adamant that if The Last Leg knew the full story they wouldn’t have shown the clip, she’d tracked down the agent of Adam Hills and was emailing them. For a while we were united and focussed on standing up for ourselves it wasn’t long though before the flight/fight pendulum started swinging and the house started to seem small and claustrophobic again. Mid-afternoon N became quiet, she’d become anxious again and was the pacing the room, my heart sank when she asked me to go with her to the supermarket to buy hair dye. The harsh reality of how it had affected her kicked in again and our world came crashing down. I’d gotten so carried away with our fight back that I’d nearly missed her becoming quiet and pensive. Telling me she needed to dye her hair brought sobriety back and gave me a massive insight into just how all this had affected her.

I feel the need to elaborate here. N is a larger than life character who is excellent with people. In the sixteen years I’ve had the honour of knowing her she’s been involved in working in the community and in particular working with the elderly. Interacting with people is her forte and seeing her work her magic with her clients is a joy to behold. In her line of work she often arrives when a family is in crisis whereupon she bursts upon the scene as part of a close knit team that signposts, advises and assists families in getting the support that they need. Her outgoing confident nature, her knowledge, experience and the support of her team coupled with her bright red hair and Scottish accent creates a Mary Poppinsesque whirlwind that really makes a difference to the families she assists and advises. She tells me often that with many of her clients she’s known as That Nice Scottish Lady with the Red Hair. As we walked around the supermarket looking for hair dye I watched her try and avoid eye contact with the other shoppers; it was devastating to see and as we paid at the checkout it felt like we were losing more than her Bright Red Hair.

The Outgoing Lady with the Red Hair had now become the introverted lady with the brown hair. That evening I finished putting everything into a short account that I sent to Chunky Mark. The rest of Saturday evening was subdued and very strained. Sunday we’d finished the email of complaint to Channel Four luckily this was a lot easier to do than it had been for Sky. We’d also received a message from Chunky Mark letting us know he’d read the account and that he’d look to getting it out there. Due to the atmosphere in the house we decided to stay off social media for the rest of the weekend and spend more time with our boys. I’m glad we did as the next two days became very hectic.

Monday and Tuesday emotionally was bedlam. N was feeling anxious thinking about work, the palpitations returned so she’d booked an emergency appointment at the doctors. Mid-morning Chunky Mark had tweeted the account we had sent him with the simple instruction ‘Read this from @Aldousmarx’. It didn’t take long before the retweets and the messages of support started flooding in. I couldn’t believe how fantastically warm and supportive some of the messages were. In less than fifteen minutes the retweets had reached over a hundred and if anything was accelerating rapidly. I replied to Chunky Mark and made that my pinned tweet. It wasn’t long before that tweet was being retweeted and all the other tweets that I’d tried to get out there were suddenly now being retweeted. My phone was going berserk, messages of support were flooding in, the direct messages I’d sent out previously were being answered. Links to the reporter and The Last Leg were being made and folk were tweeting messages of disgust to both. People were sharing their own negative experiences at the hands of the media. People were not only saying that we should pursue court action but some said they’d be happy to contribute if we wanted to crowd fund. The independent media had started messaging me for further details. It felt like our story had struck a chord that was resonating with others. Retweets had reached over a thousand and were still going strong. I was feeling giddy by the responses of support and the options that I felt were becoming open to us. We were the little people but our story had connected with the many and had empowered me I couldn’t wait to speak to N about the response. The elation I felt though was short lived as the pendulum swung immediately back to flight.

I’d spoken briefly to N that day but wanted to wait to tell her the good news, she’s on Twitter herself so knew that we’d gotten the story out there. I’d asked her if she wanted me to attend the doctor’s with her but she said it was fine. When she came in I saw straight away that things weren’t right, she put a brave face on when she told me that she’d joked with the doctor that she had a story that he might not have heard everyday. The doctor had booked an ECG for the Wednesday as he was concerned following an examination and what she’d told him about her symptoms. All thoughts of any fight back disappeared there and then. My phone was still going berserk and retweets were approaching two thousand. With this news about N’s health I started to get paranoid. The story was out there and getting bigger, perhaps too big. We decided together to come off social media until at least after the ECG on Wednesday, my phone was still going crazy with the retweets and messages so I just turned it off. Before I did though I’d noticed that Adam Hills had put an apology out on Twitter, I showed it to N before switching off the phone. Whilst it was a small win, at that moment in time with N in the condition she was it felt like a hollow victory.

That sort of brings us up to the present. For the sake of N’s health and anxiety we stayed off social media for a few days, her ECG came back fine and little by little we’ve started to put it behind us. In today’s society of multi and social media however the old adage ‘Today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s chip wrapper’ doesn’t ring true. Still out there on the internet, and in particular the Sun’s website is a seven second clip from Sky News that has been framed and packaged in such a way that it paints N as a gullible member of the ‘Cult of Corbyn’ whose ‘faith is absolute’ and who believes he has actually won the Nobel Peace Prize, not just the two he’s actually been awarded. It’s been a fortnight since the original event and whilst healing is still taking place there will always be a scar. So what about the villain of this piece? Over the last few days N and I have been able to reflect upon the actions of the reporter at length. Had there really been an innocent breakdown in communication that caused a misunderstanding between him and her? Had he had to bow to an almighty editor who’d ignored his protestations when he’d flagged up the permission issue, or had it been, as N had glimpsed in his reaction to her mistake, a case of seizing his opportunity to score big and it was too good to be missed? What was the real truth, was it the outcome of a lengthy court case where the side with the most expensive lawyer had the better chance of defining it? Should we blame the player or should we blame the game? I suppose it would help us to move on or take further action if we were able to paint the reporter as a bad person, an unscrupulous hack with no conscience making money off other people’s misery, but as both N and I know through our work that people aren’t like that and can’t be placed into such easily definable binary oppositions. Over the last couple of days N and I (she does have a name honest!) have discussed how we could conclude and move on from our situation. In a bizarre twist of events we stumbled upon a solution from the strangest of places.

While thinking about further action I looked at the reporter’s Twitter feed. And here was the final twist of irony. He had, just as I had on my account, a pinned tweet that linked to something that was wholly important to him. The link went to an article he’d written about the passing of his granddad. It was excellent. I read it with tears in my eyes. Here was an article from a passionate, articulate and eloquent journalist who was writing from the heart, punching up and explaining a situation which was alien to him, where he and his family had felt helpless, angry and without real guidance. The piece resonated with me on so many levels as it described exactly the emotions we’d just been and were still working through. Another similarity that shone out is that both his and our situation transcends left and right politics. Both sides lose out in this debate. In our case the gladiatorial ‘tit for tat’ culture damages both sides with the little people being the expendable casualties thrown in front of the machine. The irony of it all that the reporter who had placed N in this position had written such a piece wasn’t wasted upon me, after a day or two I read it to N who listened reluctantly at first (and with good reason) but when I had finished she was also emotional. She agreed it was excellent and had encapsulated issues she’d had to deal with on an almost daily basis through her work. She announced that she’d happily be part of any venture that saw a solution to the issues he had highlighted and that it was a prime example of what good journalism could be. She also agreed how his situation drew so many comparisons with ours and that maybe we should document or blog the roller coaster of a ride we’d endured if it helped others.

So there we have it, my first ever blog documenting what can only be described as an horrendously emotional intense two weeks. If you’ve got this far thank you for reading. I’m not sure what happens from here on in as we await responses from Ofcom and Channel Four, but what I do know is that in an ideal world we shouldn’t have to second guess the agenda or be guarded when approached by the media. I know that in an ideal world a caring, outgoing woman wouldn’t have to dye her hair and be scared to leave the house due to a clip that she hadn’t given permission to use. I know we don’t live in an ideal world but if we did this blog and the blog it links to would be taken seriously by the powers that be and used to elicit positive change.

N and I would like to thank everyone who has sent messages warm wishes of support, it really has helped us through this difficult time. It’s going to take a little while yet to get over all of this; but to finish on a positive she has recently hinted that she might be dying her hair red again soon.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure that this experience was mortifying. I'm also sure that the author and his partner don't have much of a leg to stand on. If you consent to being filmed and then say something as monumentally stupid as "Jeremy Corbyn has won the Nobel Peace Prize" in front of a TV camera owned by Sky News, you are going to end up on TV, no ifs and no buts.

To clue you up, there was no "breakdown of communication". No-one except the news editor had the right to decide what the reporter could and couldn't use in their broadcast. Perhaps you feel you were fobbed off. Perhaps you were.

I'm sure that, for example, Neil Kinnock still smarts and turns puce whenever a TV programme dredges up that old clip of him falling in the sea at Brighton. Them's the breaks. At least this Corbyn-related faux pas won't be shown again.

It stinks, but sometimes in life we make errors of judgement and get consequences we didn't want. Genuine wishes for good luck with pursuing your complaint, but in the meantime try to move past this and get on with your lives.

Speedy said...

So very sorry something like this should have happened to your family. Knowing journalists as I do, there is no way a reporter for a news outlet would have been able to overlook a comment like that - the relentless race for news makes it inevitable, whatever other human characteristics they may display.

On the bright side, your wife's identity was concealed by her sunglasses, so apart from people who know her personally, she is more or less anonymous. Furthermore, a public attitude of "laughing it off", no matter how personally devastated she might feel, may encourage people to forget it and move on (the news agenda and their memories certainly will).

One thing I have observed over the years is how very little things that matter so much to me matter to other people. They have too many things going on in their own lives than to think very much about you. It will only define you if you define yourself by it. No one else will, they are too busy trying to define themselves! If worse comes to worse, mindfulness therapy might help. Take care.

Unknown said...

Excellent blog,a well written response to a terrible situation, well done highlighting how the media manipulates and mock those that have a different view to the establishment!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the lesson I'm taking away is: nNeve Speak to Sky News; Never Buy The Sun.

Dylan said...

Sorry you went through this. Thank you for sharing. You sound like very awesome people

Unknown said...

Hey Shippo, I'm so sorry the media is putting you guys through this. A simple slip is in no way justification for what you and N have been through. Fingers crossed that this 'news cycle' passes, & your complaint is heard. Chin up. J x

Sacha said...

Well, Anonymous, the fact is that the article doesn't make it clear if consent was given before (really, N should've had to sign a release form) but it's clear consent was withdrawn afterwards, twice. Since the lady in question isn't a public figure, that means there's no interest gained from broadcasting this non-consensual interview, and that is in fact illegal. Neil Kinnock's accidental swim is, ostensibly, in the public interest.

Sky could've made more effort to stop it being broadcast,too, as they presumably owned the rights to the clip so could trustre other channels don't use it. Not much could be done about the viral video, though.