Innocent Till Proven Guilty: The Intrusion of Journalism

The whole objective for journalists is to keep us updated on the latest affairs. However, when covering stories which concern the law, is there a appropriate stage when the media can get involved?

Image: Terje Sollie on Pexels

I completely believe in exposing those that have been proven guilty of using their position of power to abuse and mistreat others. A good example is the exposure of Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein. After the 2017 article from The New York Times first publicly announced the allegations made against him over the past decades, more and more women came forward. As a result of this the #metoo movement first properly took off.

Originally formed in 2006, Me Too was founded by sexual abuse survivor and activist Tarana Burke. The charity offers to support those who have been a victim of sexual abuse, helping them along their healing process. In 2017, after the allegations about Harvey Weinstein fully came to light, the hashtag ‘#metoo’ went viral. It encouraged women to come forward about their experiences with sexual violence.

Image Taken From LA Times

It is so inspiring that people who have been exposed to such brutality can create some good for those that have been effected by the same issue. But what happens when the accused is actually innocent?

Let me take you back to 2014, when the BBC filmed the police raid on Sir Cliff Richards Berkshire home.

Image From Wikipedia

The raid came after the accusation that Sir Cliff had molested a 15-year-old boy at a 1985 rally in Sheffield in England, held by American evangelist Billy Graham. After this, another four men came forward, which after a lengthy investigation by South Yorkshire Police, charges were dismissed. However, after the raid had been made public on the BBC, his life was turned upside-down.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2016, he recalled how he collapsed in shock on the floor of his home in Portugal, saying ‘I couldn’t stand up and I found myself absolutely weeping like a child’. ‘I was never suicidal but I thought a couple of times I might die … I’m thinking, I don’t want to kill myself, but this could kill me.’ He continued to say ‘But I survived it all and that’s the main thing for me, and I’m past it now. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, though.’

Since then he has taken the BBC and South Yorkshire Police to court for invasion of privacy, where in 2018 he won around two million pounds from the BBC. The BBC also issued a statement saying they apologise the ‘distress’ caused to Sir Cliff.

This is just one example of a high profile case where the media got involved too prematurely. And as a result has damaged the mental health and reputation of the individual accused. Luckily in this case, justice was served but if the laws were stricter in the first place, would the BBC even of aired the raid in the first place?

When the Media Get Involved in Court Trial

The lack of evidence against Sir Cliff Richard meant he was never taken to court. However, what can happen when the media get involved in trials that haven’t yet reached a verdict?

I am sure you all remember back in February this year, TV presenter Caroline Flack, tragically took her own life. This was just weeks before she was meant to stand trial for the alleged assault of her boyfriend, Lewis Burton. Though Flack had pleaded not guilty to the charges against her, her mother spoke out saying she was being ‘hounded by press’ during the weeks leading up to her death.

Source: Guardian analysis of UK print media titles between August 2019 and February 2020

From the graph above, you can see just how the negative titles had escalated towards the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. Even without the statistics, I, myself remember the amount of articles that were being released about her. Though domestic violence is not ok in any circumstances, I remember thinking if this wasn’t true or if she was found not guilty, how this must be mentally destroying her.

The question that I have imposed during this article does not have a strict yes or no answer. In fact, as I conclude today I still haven’t completely made my own mind up. I took to my Twitter page to see how my followers thought about it. The results showed that out of 13 voters, 23.1% thought opinionated articles should be released before trial and 76.9% thought they shouldn’t.

In an ideal world, a law that would forbid the coverage of a case before a verdict is made would potentially save peoples lives and mentality. But what if Harvey Weinstein wasn’t exposed before trial, would anyone of ever gotten the courage to come forward?

I would really appreciate your thoughts on this, let me know on my Twitter and Facebook Page.

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Emma Sausman

Just a University student trying to get through their final year👩‍🎓