In the summer of 1986, without any public warning the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester, John Stalker, was removed from his duties and sent on indefinate paid leave. There followed a news blackout by the authorities, and journalists began a search for the story which lay behind John Stalker's effective suspension from duty. Inspired rumours from Whitehall, Northern Ireland, and the Manchester underworld all proved to be without foundation, as Stalker and his lawyers mounted a careful press campaign to defend him against the 'rumour mill'. It gradually emerged that his removal from duty coincided with a vital stage in his investigation of the killings, by heavily armed units of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, of six unarmed Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland three and a half years earlier. All sections of the British press pursued the story, and papers of the right, left and centre entertained in their news and editorial columns the notion that John Stalker had been the victim of a cover-up story by the British establishment. David Murphy argues that this case presents a major difficulty for the standard academic analysis of the press in Britain: namely that it supports the status quo because it is part of the dominant class system. He argues that the exclusion of non-official and dissident versions of the events can be explained by more direct causes: the ownership of the press and the routine nature of normal news production, which relies on official and established sources. Where such sources do not produce an account of events, as in the case of the Stalker affair, the overwhelming majority of the press output questioned the legitimacy of state actions, even to the extent of entertaining the notion that its agent had conspired to commit murder and to pervert the course of justice. David Murphy's analysis picks apart the notion of a 'system' controlling production to demonstrate the complex interaction between methods of individual journalists, their sources and the way news is produced.
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