Twitter asks why have the mainstream media ignored the Philippa Stroud story?
How on earth does a British election story become one of the most talked about subjects on Twitter in the whole world, but then get next to no coverage in the mainstream British media?
Yesterday, The Observer newspaper claimed that Philippa Stroud, a Conservative candidate with a good chance of winning the Sutton and Cheam constituency at this week’s general election founded a church that purported to “cure” gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people through exorcising their “demons” through prayer.
The story was picked up in the Independent and online by PinkNews (discolure: I founded that website) and a couple of radio phone-ins, but no where else. This prompted the Twittersphere to ask why. The #phillipastroud hash tag was the most talked about topic in the world at points during today.
Here’s the background:-
Mrs Stroud is the head of the Centre for Social Justice, a think tank founded by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith. The organisations claims to have formulated at least 70 of David Cameron’s family policies.
The allegations in the Observer relate to an organisation called the King’s Arms Project, a shelter and church in Bedford that primarily helped support drug addicts, alcoholics and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) people.
The Observer quoted someone called ‘Abi’, then a teenager who believed she was a transexual…”Convinced I was demoniacally possessed, my parents made the decision to move to Bedford, because of this woman [Mrs Stroud] who had come back from Hong Kong and had the power to set me free.
“She wanted me to know all my thinking was wrong, I was wrong and the so-called demons inside me were wrong. The session ended with her and others praying over me, calling out the demons. She really believed things like homosexuality, transsexualism and addiction could be fixed just by prayer, all in the name of Jesus.”
Mrs Stroud later founded another church, this time in Birmingham. Angela Paterson, an administrator for it told The Observer: “With hindsight, the thing that freaks me out was everybody praying that a demon would be cast out of me because I was gay. Anything – drugs, alcohol or homosexuality, they thought you had a demon in you.”
Mrs Stroud wrote a book called ‘God’s Heart for the Poor’ which claimed that it was possible to help people with signs of “demonic activity”. “I’d say the bottom line is to remember your spiritual authority as a child of God,” she wrote. “He is so much more powerful than anything else!”
In a statement, Mrs Stroud said “I make no apology for being a committed Christian. However it is categorically untrue that I believe homosexuality to be an illness and I am deeply offended that the Observer has suggested otherwise.” Note that the statement draws reference to whether homosexuality is an illness, not whether homosexual or transsexual feelings can be overcome through ending a demonic possession.
From my holiday in France yesterday, I tried to speak to Mrs Stroud. I was able to speak to her spokesman who would not answer why in the statement she did not explicitly deal with the claims relating to demonic possession or the ability for spiritual prayer to overcome sexuality issues. He refused to elaborate on the statement, which does not address the fundamental claims made by the Observer.
Back to Twitter, there has been much discussion of Mrs Stroud and the allegations she is not giving interviews about. Much of the discussion has actually been about why mainstream broadcast news, like my own programmes have not covered this story.
@Surburbanblogger says: “@suburbanblogger: #BBC 6pm shows no footage of brown speaking to citizens, no cameron heckler in Blackpool and no #philippastroud”
@bakerpictures directs their message at the BBC: “@BBCJonSopel Any chance of an interview with Cons Sutton/Cheam candidate #philippastroud at some point? #ge2010”
@kilburnmat directs the question at us: “@channel4news will you be covering the #philippastroud story? It’s just that you’ve found space for snooker bribes twice now but not this”
The former Stictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips even sent me a message on Twitter: “@benjamincohen demand all channels full report at the very least”
Another message has been reTweeted all day. @TheoAdams asks “Gordon Brown calls ONE voter a bigot. Press goes MENTAL. #PhilippaStroudcalls MILLIONS of voters demons. Silence. Why?”
It’s a compelling question. I asked today’s programme editor why not. He said it was a good story but is rather hampered by the fact that Mrs Stroud hasn’t given interviews on the subject. We also haven’t been able to interview the people quoted in the Observer’s original investigation. All we have is an rather obscure book and claims by individuals who assert that Mrs Stroud had contact with them more than 10 years ago.
It’s interesting that today the Conservative Party quietly launched an equality manifesto, which among other things suggests that a future Conservative Government would “consider” the case for full gay marriage. But there was no press conference, so no opportunity for the mainstream media to question the Tory high command on the revelations relating to Mrs Stroud, so no opportunity to “move the story on”, something that is a pretty important task to achieve within a news story. Although a spokesman told me that there was never due to be any events or questions and answer opportunities relating to the publication of the equality manifesto.
I do thoughhave some sympathy with @TheoAdams’s question. But I think it’s simply bigger news when the prime minister makes a gaffe, even though his comments were not intended to be made public, whereas the sentiments expressed within Mrs Stroud’s book were. She intentionally authored it and published it in 1999. This does not mean though that it is not an important story, nor one that deserves to be ignored.
Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of gay rights lobbying group Stonewall (and former assistant editor of the Observer) told me that there could be other reasons why the story hasn’t been followed up: “It’s true that all sorts of news media, don’t report minority issues, as they’d report mainstream ones. It’s also true that they report cases of discrimination against black people over gay people. Partly it’s because gay people are invisible from the top of the main broadcasters and from most of fleet street.”
It’s interesting to look at the number of people reTweeting messages like the ones above using the #philippastroud hastag who have “vote Labour” profile pictures. I’m NOT suggesting there’s a conspiracy theory going on here, that the Labour Party are responsible for a reTweeting army, but there could be political motivation behind some, but clearly not all the Tweets.
But what the interest in Mrs Stroud’s story on Twitter shows, is that the public, if only on Twitter are beginning to show outrage at the way that mainstream media covers stories that are of interest to them. The openness of Twitter, and for example the fact that me and people like today’s programme editor are on Twitter means there is a greater requirement to justify the editorial decisions that we make. Programmes like Channel 4 News do take note of the Twittersphere and we do engage to explain why some stories make the air while others don’t. I for example, often moan to Twitter when an interesting story of mine is dropped in favour of a new, breaking news story.
I should note that we are going to discuss the story again at our editorial meeting tomorrow.