by Stephen Tall on March 1, 2014
Actor, broadcaster and former husband of ex-Sun editor Rebekah Brooks
Reason: for ensuring The Sun recognised its coverage of Frank Bruno’s mental illness was brutal and wrong.
Newspapers are rarely out of the news these days.
If you’re a Labour sympathiser, you may well have spent the week railing against the Daily Mail for “smearing” the party’s deputy leader Harriet Harman by highlighting her role at the National Council for Civil Liberties in the 1970s, when it was associated with the Paedophile Information Exchange and its campaign for lowering the age of consent to 10.
Of course the paper’s decision to splash this on its front page so often was politically motivated – though just as much motivated by the Mail’s everyday sensationalism which has brought it such commercial success.
But the story itself was legitimate as shown by the apology eventually offered by former Labour cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt, who headed up the NCCL at the time. Harriet Harman continues to say no apology is due from her – though she might want to ask herself what she would be demanding of a Conservative politician who found herself in the same position.
This hoo-ha has eclipsed the phone-hacking trial, where newspaper standards are unofficially on trial, with former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks defending herself against criminal charges.
Ms Brooks was asked this week about her role in one of The Sun’s (many) infamous front pages – the September 2003 edition which taunted former boxer, Frank Bruno, when he was sectioned after suffering from depression, with a front page headline that read: ‘Bonkers Bruno Locked Up’.
Here’s the Daily Express’s account:
The 45 year-old said she approved the tabloid’s front page story featuring the headline “Bonkers Bruno Locked Up” about the sports star’s health problems in 2003.
She told the hacking trial at the Old Bailey she only realised her “blind spot” when she returned home and was told by her then-husband Ross Kemp that the story was too hard on the boxer.
Brooks said: “I personally made lots of mistakes during my 10-12 years as a newspaper editor. Some of which I felt were big mistakes I have tried to address.
“The Sun had a good relationship with Frank Bruno. We did lots of interviews. He was a great character, very friendly to the media. This day I was involved in many, many meetings. I hadn’t really got on top of what happened to Frank Bruno.”
Brooks, of Churchill, Oxfordshire, said she was shown a proof version of the Sun’s front page covering the story and gave her approval. She went on: “I got home, put the proof down and Ross said: ‘What is that? What are you doing?’.
“Looking again, it was a complete blind spot. Ross had seen the front page and questioned how brutal it was. It was a terrible mistake I made.”
Ross Kemp’s words had some effect at any rate. The Sun changed its headline for the rest of the print run to the marginally less offensive ‘Sad Bruno in mental home’.
There is increasing understanding among both politicians and the public of how inter-linked are mental and physical health. Indeed Paul Burstow and my CentreForum colleagues have helped make the simple point ‘There can be no health without mental health’ through their Commission, which aims to “set out liberal values, principles and approach to mental health care”.
Newspapers too have their part to play, as Ross Kemp realised immediately and Rebekah Brooks realised belatedly.
* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.