Sunday, 24 June 2012

Dogging Reporting and the Potential Case of the Sports Biscuit

As if Rupert Murdoch didn't have enough problems when he closed down the News of the World, he then discovered some Northern upstart had already taken the name 'Sunday Sun', hence when he finally launched his replacement newspaper, it was to be called The Sun on Sunday.

It is however the Sunday Sun which carries a fascinating piece this weekend about North East 'dogging spots'.  On the face of it, it's the usual "we have no news, quick George, trawl the Internet for some dogging posts we can be suitably outraged about", but it's actually a textured article with a number of aspects worth exploring.

For a start, we have a photograph of a Police notice from the relevant Police force taken 'in the field'.  We also have information from the Police saying they don't think dogging is a 'particular problem' across the region, and reminding the public that if they re concerned about 'this activity', they should report it to the police - a very sensible and measured response.

However, the journalist notes first of all the legal context, commenting (slightly inaccurately) that dogging falls through a legal loophole as it has to be witnessed.  In reality,  there has to be the possibility that it will be witnessed (it needn't actually be witnessed) by two or more people.  I don't think I've yet read a news story which gets the law right in this area.  

The line the paper peddles that 'that “get out of jail” card means police forces and councils trying to crack down on the bawdy behaviour have had little success', is puzzling and I wonder whether it is conjecture by the journalist, or a disgruntled cop sounding off.  Moreover, what does 'little success' mean?  Have there been targeted operations that have failed?  Does the paper have empirical evidence that it has not effected the amount of dogging, the location of dogging?  Is there a causal link between Police actions and any reduction (if evidenced) in the total amount of dogging?

Then we move to the usual listings, which will no doubt trigger snorts of derision by those familiar with those sites as some now have CCTV cameras, others barriers, and most have spatial conflicts (for instance with boys racers) which have long rendered them obsolete for doggers.  Indeed, one site mentioned is currently a new housing estate.  Just because a location might be posted, it does not indicate it is active.

Moreover - and in contrast to cruising and cottaging sites - accurate dogging site information is rarely posted in open forums because of these journalist trawls and the need to protect spaces.

The story about a dogging site 500 yards from a school therefore seems unlikely, and in any case, being 500yards from a school bonking for England at 3am is a rather different proposition to vigorous exploration of your vehicles suspension during mid-morning school break and the handing out of milk and a sports biscuit (there certainly won't be a picture of that leisurely pursuit on their biccy).

The Durham Police spokesman takes a commendably similar approach to Northumbria (in both cases, a thawing in attitudes to traditional quotes)  who notes dogging isn't a particular issue for the Force, and that the sites listed aren't 'hot spots'.

Unusually, the story does make reference to the film Dogging: A Love Story, which did use one historic dogging location, but which has long been avoided due to all this publicity, thus making an important point which the paper could make, but instead the newspaper uses it as an example of a comedic take on dogging (they've obviously not seen it - it's a dreadful film).

So yes, a more textured story but still inaccurate about locations and the law.  Why, one must then ask, do journalists keep returning to these stories in the absence of any clear justification?

Read the full Sunday Sun piece here.

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