On or around Thursday 13th May 2004 Tony Blair's 16 year old daughter Kathryn attempted to commit suicide. She is in the middle of exams, believed to be GCSE's and took an overdose of unknown pills. She was rushed to hospital and a news blackout was requested by the PM's office and adhered to by the British Press. Katherine is believed to be studying at the Sacred Heart school in Hammersmith, West London, a Roman Catholic state secondary school.
News about the suicide attempt was confirmed by Alan Johnson, Labour MP for West Hull and Hessle.
So, was this a sudden pang of concience from the British tabloids over sensitive reporting of the PM's family? Or the establishment press (yes even the tabloids are owned by the establishment) kow-towing to protect the flagging public image of the most disasterous Prime Minister this country has ever seen just before local and European Elections?
In a democracy, the public have a right to know about the family failings of anyone in public office - it enables them to judge whether to vote for that individual or not. When that failing family is the Prime Ministers the press have a duty to inform the public - not to protect politicians' images from public scrutiny.
You can comment on the news blackout here:
Stupid Boy forum
Barfi Culture Forum
So-called open publishing newswire Indymedia have also censored this story -
Ethical guidance on the reporting of suicide is here
Feargal Mc Kay November 2004
Traditionally, the British media like to think that anyone and everyone is fair game when it comes to finding stories that'll sell their product. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair has ruled his family off-limits. And where one story is concerned this year, Blair seems to be winning this battle of the wills.
When Tony Blair came to power in 1997, pictures of the Blair family posing outside 10 Downing St filled the front pages. Three years later, when he became the first serving Prime Minister in 150 years to have fathered a child, pictures of the doting father and the adorable baby Leo again filled the front pages. But having started off as a Prime Minister who wanted to show how much of a regular guy he was, Blair is now in a situation where his children receive almost as much protection from the British media as the Princes William and Harry received following the death of Diana.
In 2000, before the Blairs adopted a get-tough policy with the British media and their coverage of the Blair brood, the British media had something of a field day, reporting with glee the news that Tony Blair's eldest son, Euan, had been found vomiting in Leicester Square after drinking too much in celebration of his GCSE results. Two years earlier, the media had similarly celebrated when the son of Home Secretary Jack Straw was entrapped by a Daily Mirror reporter, Dawn Alford, into selling her cannabis. Attempts to hush that story up failed when, despite the English media being injuncted, Scottish media ran with the story.
But the timing of the Euan story couldn't have been more propitious for the British media even if they'd staged it themselves by plying the child with alcohol. Only days before, Blair had proposed on-the-spot fines for drunken and yobbish behaviour, painting a picture of police officers leading bladdered-up youths to cash points in order to pay their fines.
Protecting his family from the glare of the British media is now so important for Blair that any company or individual providing services to the Blairs is required to sign a confidentiality agreement. In 2000, when the Mail on Sunday obtained a draft of a book written by former Blair nanny Ros Mark - which, in recognition of the confidentiality clause in her contract, she had not intended publishing without the permission of the Blairs - and sought to publish an article about it, the Blairs obtained a High Court injunction forbidding further publication of the Mail on Sunday article even though early editions of the paper had already hit the streets with the story in them.
Some believe that the Blair's are applying a double standard with regard to their family privacy and this has been a regular bugbear for the British media over the last few years. In 2002, then Tory leader Ian Duncan Smith accused Blair of exploiting his children for political purposes: "I think Tony Blair uses his children ruthlessly. Once you open the doors to your children it just gives the press an excuse for intrusion."
In December of last year, the British media's frustration with this apparent double standard erupted on the front pages, with stories concerning the family's 2003 Christmas card. The card had featured a photo of the Blair family outside Downing Street. This card was meant for circulation only to close friends and family, while the official Christmas card featured a picture of just Tony and Cherie. However, the London Evening Standard decided to publish the family card, claiming that its circulation went well beyond family and close friends.
Coming as it did just weeks after the Blairs had sought to block publication of a photograph of Jacques Chirac holding up a signed picture of baby Leo, the Standard felt that the Blairs were being hypocritical in regard to their much vaunted family privacy. In their own inimitable way though, the British media only reinforced the Blairs' case for family privacy, arguing not about whether Blair was being hypocritical on the matter of his family's privacy, but instead choosing to condemn Cherie for allowing what they described as Kathryn Blair's "tree trunk" legs to be photographed in such a fashion.
Kathryn has been the subject of media attention before last year. In 1999, the Blairs successfully fought an action against the Mail on Sunday, which had published a story about her acceptance by a local Catholic school. This year though, the British media have avoided one story concerning Kathryn which has been circulating on the internet since April, the main substance of which is the sixteen year old daughter of the Prime Minster had attempted to commit suicide.
The story of Blair's family difficulties almost broke into the mainstream British media in September, when Melvynn Bragg let slip about a Blair family secret when, in an interview with ITV's Alastair Stewart, he suggested that Blair had considered reigning earlier this year over domestic reasons. With those few words, Bragg gave credence to a story which, by now, has been circulating internationally, as well as on the web. Papers in Australia discussed the story of the domestic difficulties without referring to them, merely pointing their readers to the internet to find out.
Bragg's words also helped to explain to those not familiar with the internet rumours the rash of media speculation concerning Blair's future in May and June, when reports claimed that family as well as political problems would force him to resign. For all that the British media were ignoring the story, their knowledge of its existence was fuelling their speculation concerning Blair's future as British PM.
Blair's imminent retirement had been front page news in January and February, when he faced the double-whammy of the Hutton Report and a threatened backbench revolt over university top-up fees. When he survived both scares, most people assumed that the media would stop crying wolf over his departure. But by April the stories had returned, even louder than before and it wasn't just a seven year itch fuelling them. Most tried to hang their speculation on some new, looming crisis, but most all also claimed that personal reasons would hasten his departure.
When it wants to, the British media can avoid a story. But eventually one paper breaks ranks and the others are all forced to follow in the ratings race. For a long time, the news of an affair between British Home Secretary David Blunkett and Spectator publisher Kimberly Fortier had been one of Whitehall's most closely guarded secrets, known by many but unreported by anyone. Until, that is, the News of the World chose to break ranks earlier this year and print the story.
For now though, the British media are holding the line where the Blair children are concerned and keeping a safe distance. But with Christmas only around the corner and another Blair family Christmas card already in production the question really is which paper will break ranks first and print the story which, for internet users, is already old news.
November 2004 http://www.siglamag.com/features/0411/TonyBlair.php
Robert Henderson - 25th August 2005
The British media claims it is committed to informing the public. The reality is that it frequently colludes with politicians to suppress stories. A classic example is the attempted suicide of Blair's daughter Kathryn in April 2004. Every single newspaper and broadcaster (including the BBC) has refused to use the story.
The BBC as a public service broadcaster has a special obligation to put anything of political interest before the public. Consequently, I have twice confronted its chairman Michael Grade with the failure of the BBC to run the story.
The first occasion was at the Viewers and Listeners Spring Conference in April 2005. Grade claimed not to know the story, but refused to discuss the matter. Later I wrote to him asking him to justify his failure to make the story public. Grade did not reply but I received a letter from the BBC's Head of communications Tina Stowell which ran "The question you raised at the VLV Seminar on 25 April relating to the Prime Minister's daughter is not one which the BBC Chairman will respond to in public or via correspondence."
The second occasion was at the Governors "AGM" at Television Centre on 19 July 2005. After the programme, The Governors rashly mingled with the audience. I managed to corner Grade for about five minutes and ask him in front of plenty of witnesses why he had censored the story of the Blair daughter's attempted suicide, especially after I had raised the matter with him in April 2005 at the Voice of the Viewer and Listeners Spring Conference. He tried to make a joke of it, but before he escaped I asked him the following question: Do you believe the story is true? He refused to answer. 'nuff said.
At the same meeting I lobbied four other Governors: Deborah Bull, Merfyn Jones, Fabian Monds, Ranjit Sondhi and Angela Sarkis. Without exception they all seemed painfully startled by the news. I got a promise from each to look into the matter if I sent them the full details. I wrote to them and the other Governors on 20 July 2005. None have replied. Instead, I again received a letter from Tina Stowell (22 July 2005). This ran "Thank you for your letter to the Board of Governors. The BBC's position remains the same as in my previous letter." I then submitted a formal complaint through the governors' website of 28 July 2005. No reply has been received after a month.
During the BBC R5 morning phone in programme of 3 May 2005, hosted by Victoria Derbyshire, I managed to bring up the attempted suicide of Kathryn Blair. I was cut off almost immediately.
After the R5 episode I wrote to Feedback, the programme which supposedly deals with listeners concerns with the BBC, asking them to investigate the censorship. They have failed to do so.
The BBC (and rest of the media) does not have any general trouble with reporting teenage attempted suicides, for example, Rebecca Ling, the girl who survived a suicide pact in 2004 received very full coverage.
Blair Scandal website: http://www.geocities.com/blairscandal/
Personal website: http://www.anywhere.demon.co.uk
Robert Henderson <philip(at)anywhere.demon.co.uk>