23 years to discover the ‘truth’ about Hillsborough
In April 1989 the UK tabloid newspaper the Sun published an article setting out what was supposed to have happened at a football (‘soccer’) ground in Sheffield, in the English county of South Yorkshire. Under the headline ‘The Truth’, the newspaper told its readers that the crowd disaster that had only a few days previously so tragically claimed the lives of 96 people had been caused by drunken fans of Liverpool Football Club. The coverage on the front page also alleged that Liverpool fans had urinated on police constables (PCs), stolen from corpses and prevented PCs from resuscitating victims. If you’re not familiar with this story, you can read an account of it here: http://bit.ly/NobrNL.
That MediaGuardian article, written 15 years after the event, also records how one man, the editor of the Sun at the time, Kelvin MacKenzie, took the decision to publish under the headline ‘The Truth’.
Today Kelvin MacKenzie offered what he called his “profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool”. He stated: “I too was totally misled. Twenty three ago I was handed a piece of copy from a reputable news agency in Sheffield in which a senior police officer and a senior local MP were making serious allegations against fans in the stadium. I had absolutely no reason to believe that these authority figures would lie and deceive over such a disaster.”
That may well have been the situation at the time. But it is clear from the description in the MediaGuardian article of how MacKenzie decided on ‘The Truth’ as a headline that there was little if any effort made by the Sun to try to establish whether or not it really was the ‘truth’.
Now, 23 years later, we have the report from an independent panel that was set up to investigate what has become known as the ‘Hillsborough Disaster’. The report finds that 164 statements from witnesses were “significantly amended” and that 116 had been altered so as to remove negative comments about the policing operation that day. The panel also found flaws in the police operation and new evidence that the police carried out checks on those who had died in order to “impugn their reputations”. David Crompton, the current chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, has said he “profoundly apologises” to both the families of the 96 Hillsborough victims and to Liverpool fans in general. David Cameron, the current UK prime minister, has also issued what he termed a “proper apology” to the families of those that died.
This whole sorry saga is both depressing and shocking. But what is of even more concern is that it is just an extreme example of what still happens every day. The media print, publish and broadcast ‘The Truth’ – not because they know it to be true, but because it is what they think their audience wants to believe is the ‘truth’. And we, the gullible, willing public, lap it up and pass it on to one another.