Heat! Why would you do that?

// 30 November 2007

If any of you have seen Heat magazine this week then you’ll already know what I’m talking about. For some reason Mark Frith et al thought it would be a good idea to give away free stickers. It sounds harmful enough, but speed on over to Alpha Mummy, a blog for new mothers on The Times website, and you’ll see just how offensive a freebie fad can be.

One of the stickers featured the face of Harvey, the son of Katie Price (aka Jordan), alongside the words “Harvey wants to eat me!” It was one of 50 given away, along with those of Britney Spears, titled “Mum of the year,” and Victoria Beckham asking, “Will you fucking smile?” Presumably this was some sort of joke, but placing Harvey, a helpless little boy, alongside Spears and VB was completely and utterly unbelievable. As you will see from the image below, it was absolutely disgusting!

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Harvey is five-years-old and he is disabled. He has septo-optic dysplasia, a condition which means he is visually impaired, and he is autistic. He also has a hormonal growth disorder which means he is prone to gaining weight. Now, I enjoy a good chuckle, but this wasn’t comical at all. What Heat demonstrated was the essentially bully-like nature of the media, failing to respect anyone they consider to be different.

Harvey was an easy target not only because he is a child but because of his physical conditions. What Heat has attempted to do is turn Harvey into a caricature: a source of amusement and entertainment for the nation. Whereas the other people featured were being ridiculed for their choices or behaviour (which is also unacceptable), Harvey was being made fun of because of who he is: because of his conditions. He is an inoffensive child, and Heat showed just how low they are willing to stoop for publicity. He was vulnerable and Heat pounced.

It is precisely this sort of attitude that incites prejudice, and so it’s not surprising that Price has made a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). Mark Frith claims to have apologised to Price, and the following statement was featured on the Heat website yesterday:

“It was never our intention to cause offence to Harvey’s family and friends nor to you, our readers. In particular, it was never our aim to make fun of Harvey’s disabilities. We now accept the decision to include this sticker was a mistake and we recognise that it has caused offence, not only to Katie and Peter Andre, but to a number of readers. Immediately following publication, we apologised unreservedly to Katie and Peter. We wish to apologise publicly to Harvey, Katie and Peter for any embarrassment and distress caused.”

Heat didn’t intend to cause offence?! What sort of response did they think this would yield? What sort of readership do they want to attract? And what must Heat think of their existing readers if they thought this would be appealing? Did they think that because Price regularly speaks to magazines and newspapers about her experiences raising Harvey that he was free game? Nothing more than a bit of cheap media fodder to be brutally chewed at by talentless hacks? I think that was probably the case, and I’m not entirely convinced by the sincerity of the apology. Granted, once a wrong has been committed all a person can do is say sorry. But not only did this seem like very few words considering the gravity of the magazine’s actions, but with all the publicity, I’m sure the number of copies of Heat sold this week probably soared. A mistake or a clever publicity stunt? Seems like the benefits could have potentially outweighed the criticism if the PCC are unable to take action. Either way Frith should be careful, otherwise he may find his own fair daguerrotype featured alongside the desperate phrase “will work for food” in the not too distant future.

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