Recent media coverage – frenzy even – about any well-known figure, from celebrities to those holding high office, suggests we have made a fundamental shift in our attitude to those in the public eye.
After centuries of adhering to the ‘rule of law’ and the ‘presumption of innocence’, whereby the burden of proof lies with the prosecution to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of anyone accused of and on trial for a crime, we appear to have abandoned this in favour of trial by media and the rule of ‘there’s no smoke without fire’.
The idea that anyone is ‘innocent until proven guilty’ has been a basic cornerstone of British justice for centuries. Apparently, however, we now believe it reasonable for journalists and their editors or programmes to publicly pillory an individual and to force them to resign on the basis of unsubstantiated or unexamined allegations. Some have seen their careers destroyed. Others have, more tragically, lost their lives.
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Now, let’s be clear. If the allegations are proven, the individuals deserve to be punished in an appropriate way. If accurate, these are allegations of at best poor judgement – in the case of Priti Patel – or of the appalling abuse of power – in the case of Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey. My point is not to defend them or their alleged actions. I am however extremely concerned by the whiff of mob-rule that seeks to bypass due legal process and ‘convict’ on the basis of hearsay. Large corporations are quick to distance themselves from anyone accused of anything they fear may tarnish their image. Political leaders are quick to demand the head of anyone singled out by the media as a transgressor.
It seems to me that the media now hold the power in the UK. They can make or break anyone according to their whims or self-interest and large sections of the public will immediately jump onto social media to express their ill-informed and prejudiced opinions.
Is that an enlightened and sophisticated society? Is that what was intended by creating a ‘free-press’?
I doubt it.