James Kirkup James Kirkup

Munroe Bergdorf, the NSPCC and the failure of the media

It’s exam season, so here’s a test, suitable for anyone interested in how the media and public conversation work in 2019.

Here is a sequence of events:

  1. A charity involved in the safeguarding and welfare of children appoints a celebrity ambassador.
  2. It emerges that the celebrity has a history of asking children in emotional distress to contact them online. This appears to contradict the charity’s safeguarding guidance, which is that children should not share personal information with strangers online.
  3. It emerges that the celebrity has a history of posing for pictures for publication in sexualised clothing and poses, including for Playboy.
  4. Issues 2 and 3 are raised online by some supporters of the charity, who suggest they will withdraw financial backing for the charity in protest at the appointment.
  5. A journalist asks the charity if it is still happy to work with the celebrity, given the celebrity’s background and the prospect of financial backers withdrawing support.
  6. The charity announces that it will no longer work with the celebrity.
  7. The charity says that is stopped working with the celebrity because the celebrity’s actions were ‘in breach of our own risk assessment and undermine what we are here to do.’

Now, given that sequence of events, which of the following would best describe media coverage that follows:

A) Media outlets report the story under headlines along the lines of ‘Child safety charity sacks celebrity ambassador who broke safety rules and undermined its work.’

B) Media outlets run stories and commentary reporting the celebrity’s dismissal but failing even to mention the reason for that dismissal (breaching rules around child safety) and accusing those who raised concerns about the celebrity’s appointment of hateful prejudice. Several single out the female journalist mentioned in point 5, questioning her motives and her right to speak.

The answer is A, right? I mean, this is 2019, not 1979. Child safety is well-understood and valued, as is the importance of an environment where concerns about the breach of the relevant rules can be aired freely: no one would try to silence whistleblowers, journalists or anyone else who raised concerns about the messages sent to and examples set for vulnerable children, would they? And shouting down women who ask questions isn’t acceptable any more, is it?

Well, actually the answer is B.

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