. . . continued

word; the desperation is palpable in a Sun story as early as 1 May 2008, which helps shed light on the media siege that would grip Amstetten–Mauer psychiatric hospital within days: together with quintessential tabloid popular vernacular, the red-top printed an artist’s sketch, “from witness reports”, of a “haunting image of cellar mum Elisabeth”.10 Thus, it is not surprising that a note of indignation and outrage is discernible in a Sun story two weeks later that announced the removal of Elisabeth and her children from the psychiatric hospital to a “secret location”: the caption below the oft-printed image of a fifteen-year-old Elisabeth described her as “hiding”.11

Although the Fritzl children’s location obviously did not remain a secret for long, at least not as far as the Sun was concerned, a few weeks after the red-top’s spread, on 11 March 2009, the UK mid-market national tabloid, the Daily Mail, revealed the name of the village where Elisabeth and her family were living; the area was soon “crawling with photographers”, which led Austrian officials to “plead…with the media to stay away” and the family’s therapists to pronounce that publishing photographs of the victims “could make a full recovery impossible”.12 The trial of Josef Fritzl was due to begin on 16 March; Elisabeth and her children were

forced to move back into the psychiatric hospital where they were treated after their liberation. During the trial, police imposed no-fly zones over the courthouse and over the hospital to prevent photographers using helicopters to obtain aerial shots.13

In giving evidence to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 23 April 2009, the editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, pleaded an absolute ignorance of the news feature that named the location of the Friztl’s new home, but nevertheless referred to the pressures of modern mass-media production. Dacre subsequently sent written evidence to the committee outlining the circumstances of the offending news feature; in this evidence he took it upon himself to speak not just for the Daily Mail, but, explicitly, also for the entire British media in alleging a lack of awareness “over the sensitivity of this matter”.14

Dacre’s statement was extraordinary considering the high international profile of the Fritzl story, the prominence and the consistency of the sensationalist coverage his own newspaper had given the story, and Josef Fritzl’s impending trial at the time of the feature in question. It was also extraordinary considering Dacre’s position as the chairman of the UK

Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, the body that produces the Editors’ Code of Practice, a document that is meant to govern the ethics and professional behaviour of the British press industry. Together, the Sun and the Daily Mail, among other British titles, appear to have committed multiple violations of the Editors’ Code, particularly those clauses dealing with privacy, harassment, intrusion into grief or shock, children, children in sex cases, hospitals, and reporting of crime.15

Undoubtedly, the media had bestowed a dark celebrity status on the Fritzls with no motivation other than a commercial one. While UK tabloids, and tabloids in general, were not the only offenders, those who relentlessly pursued the Fritzls displayed what can be termed “classic” tabloid behaviour in sparing little expense or device to clinch the scoop that would earn their title or media organisation widespread international exposure and extremely lucrative returns.16 They were prepared to do this literally at the cost of the sanity of Josef Fritzl’s victims.

Press coverage of the Fritzl story that violated the privacy of the victims and the ethical and professional codes of media conduct alike, whether committed by the traditional tabloid press or by titles normally associated

with the “quality” or “serious” press, validates a definition of tabloid journalism as that which “prioritizes entertainment, human interest and commercial profitability and which is usually presented as oppositional to ‘serious’ and socially responsible journalism”.17

/ those who relentlessly pursued the Fritzls displayed what can be termed 'classic' tabloid behaviour /

‘Industrial-scale’ lawbreaking

Elisabeth Fritzl and her children have not been the only victims of the tabloid press. On 4 July 2011, the London-based UK national broadsheet, the Guardian, revealed that the Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, had hacked into the voicemail of murdered thirteen-year-old schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and had deleted messages to make more space available when worried family and friends filled the mailbox. Milly’s body had not yet been found, and when her voicemail messages were being deleted, those family and friends presumed she was still alive. Police feared potentially valuable evidence may have been destroyed.18