Why let a proper news story get in the way of a good headline? Sensationalism in the press has long been a significant journalistic technique and recognised as a tried and tested tactic to sell copies of a newspaper. But does this compulsion to sensationalise reporting of events compromise the integrity of journalism?
The case of Paolo Di Canio
Paulo Di Canio was announced as the successor to the recently sacked Martin O’Neill on Easter Monday, which, in a show of calendaric rarity, also happened to be the 1st April; April Fools day. The position as Sunderland Head Coach was not Di Canio’s first managerial post; in fact it is his second in English football, following a spell in charge of Swindon Town FC.
However, unlike in 2011, this appointment has caused the media to hit the panic button on an epic scale. Where one would usually expect tributes to the former manager, mild outrage against foreign owners wielding swords of power, and questions over the tactical nuances of a top-flight rookie; all the press have concerned themselves with is alleged comments the man made 8 years ago, which he explained in his first press conference, and an official club statement as misrepresentative and out of context.
Asking the right questions
In the hours and days following the initial press conference the newspapers filled their websites, twitter feeds and front and back pages with speculation regarding the truth about the comments; the primary sources beginning and ending with Mr. Di Canio’s organised press conferences (which are standard fare at such embryonic stages of a new managers reign). The original source remains to my knowledge, un-translated and as such, unsubstantiated. The press have, however, published images of Di Canio saluting his own fans during his playing career, while at Lazio.
These pictures have become the basis for a campaign of hate, in the absence of any real investigation, and have been misrepresented as having connections to the Nazis. This is in conjunction with a dreadfully crass typecasting of several socio-political, historical parties, and a blind ignorance of the associated terminology and socio-political context.
The far right or far off the mark?
I would like to make clear that I am not condoning the actions carried out under the name of fascism in the past, but nor do I condone the actions of the press as they fail to differentiate between fascism and racially fueled hate crimes. Fascism is an ideology which is understood to mean a myriad of things to different people in various social and historical contexts.
We are talking about the comments of an elite sportsman, not a politician or academic. Why is it assumed Di Canio understands the connotations of his alleged comments, especially in a foreign cultural setting? He has clearly been instructed by the club’s press office to refuse to comment on any political issue – after all, he is a former footballer, not a political historian. How do we know for sure that everything he has read or heard outside of football isn’t understood in the paradigm of football discourse (probably the only thing he has ever known)? Refusing to deny outrageous accusations is being reported as if it were an admission of sympathising with the actions of evil by the press, and I expect more. It’s simply not good enough.