Hillsborough: An open letter to journalists

Today, a Government paper was released. It finally revealed the long-awaited truth of what happened at Hillsborough 23 years ago where 96 people died attending a football match. Here, I write an open letter to all journalists on how we have a duty of care to ensure the appalling reporting carried out by The Sun newspaper of the disaster never happens again…

Journalism is a vital organ. When it works well, it can break down walls. It can change laws and it can bare the truth. But when it doesn’t work, it can cost lives.

23 years ago a football match was played. The ground was Hillsborough, the clubs were Nottingham Forest – and Liverpool. What happened that day will never be forgotten. 96 Liverpool football fans that day lost their lives watching a game they loved. They were crushed against fences, they fought for air. It was a scene no one wishes to ever see and one that, for its victims and their families, is seared onto their brains forever.

Immediately, journalists were on the scene reporting live, ensuring that the nation knew what was happening, which is as expected. But then a British newspaper – The Sun – subsequently wrote an article that blasted everything to pieces. The Sun printed an article that slated the victims. Its source, as it turned out, was the police. The Sun decided to run with the source and the result was a front page headline that blamed the Hillsborough disaster on the Liverpool fans. It said they were drunk. It said they were fighting. It was utterly and without question, appalling journalism.

The UK Government report into the disaster today has finally outed the truth. The Sun newspaper has publicly apologised, citing its ‘deep sense of shame’ for it’s reporting of 23 years back.

As writers, we must learn from this. Journalists have a duty. That duty is to be fair. To report the truth. To not let prejudice blind our words. To not be coloured by what we perceive to be true  as opposed to what the real truth is. Because truth is what this all boils down to. The truth of what happened on that terrible day. The truth of what the police did, thought, acted upon. The truth that The Sun journalists decided to portray. The truth that the victims’ families always knew.

So, may journalists always do their duty. You must realise the responsibility that comes with your job. People’s lives are in your hands, at your fingertips. When you report, be fair. Be truthful. Be good human beings. Otherwise, please, do not be a journalist.

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