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Coronation Street press pack pushes back the boundaries

Scenes portraying the press pack on Coronation Street this week would probably have landed editors in front of the Press Complaints Commission – if they had happened in a real street.

Reporters scaling garden fences to get to the back door of Gail Hillman’s house, photographers firing flash bulbs through her curtains, and jostling her and her children as they tried to get to school were all featured.

In the ITV soap opera, Gail’s husband Richard is on the run after confessing to being a serial killer.

Many of the points in the voluntary Editors’ Code of Conduct would have been breached by the “press” on Britain’s most famous street – a situation which is “ridiculous” in this day and age, according to Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors, which helped draft the guidelines.

Coronation Street says some artistic licence was being used, and it was needed to show the distress being felt by Gail.

The newshounds portrayed in Monday’s double-episode could easily have fallen foul of guidance on privacy, harassment, intrusion, reporting on children, use of listening devices, misrepresentation, and reporting of crime.

If they had tried to interview Martin Platt at work they may have breached rules on entering hospitals – another specific point in the Editors’ Code.

Bob said: “Thank goodness it was fiction – which means Granada TV has dramatic licence to portray the press in a light which is ridiculous these days.

“The way the press is portrayed by television is almost universally ridiculous: you could almost have grounds for complaining to the broadcasting standards authority.

“But on a more serious note, it does not help the current debate about privacy in any way and the point that the television drama departments miss is that there are powerful people who would like to control the press, and their own colleagues in television news as well.

“The dramatic representation is so far from the truth, even for the way national tabloids behave these days. Every national tabloid journalist I have spoken to is well aware of the Code of Practice and how it affects their work. The scenes portrayed on Coronation Street just would not happen.”

Senior Coronation Street press officer Alison Sinclair said: “The idea was to try to show the trauma that Gail was going through – it is entertainment and it is drama.

“With the exception of the man playing Stan Nicholl, the photographer, the rest of the press pack are non-speaking extras – and they had a lot of fun in the role, even elbowing our official stills man out of the way!

“We know that in reality the sort of behaviour shown would land them before the PCC.

“Sometimes they are represented like this when it is journalism from the 1980s but we realise things have moved on.”

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