A Lack of Media Respect

Presumably, given the huge amount of evidence they had to sift through, the jury in the Rolf Harris trial saw compelling evidence to find him guilty. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been so in the parallel ‘trial by media’ reporting of the case. The problem is that the media isn’t interested in compelling evidence but in sensational stories, no matter how shaky they appear in the reporting. We see this even with the emerging claims that Harris trawled Broadmoor with Savile – rather than waiting for confirming evidence, it has proven sufficient to print a photo of Harris on Jim’ll Fix It, as if that constituted evidence of an odious partnership.

There is a fundamental lack of respect for justice and victims in the way the media approach cases of rape and sexual abuse. By reducing testimony to sensational soundbites they undermine the veracity of victims and encourage false testimony from people who have come to regard sexual assault not as a heinous crime but as a quick route to money or celebrity. In those cases where the wrong person has been identified or a false accusation has been made, such an approach ensures that the wrongly accused is tarred forever by the wild claims. Instead of a proper investigation to find Savile’s accomplices in the NHS, police and other bodies, we get a witch hunt focusing on celebrities, regardless of the evidence. Because the media just doesn’t care about truth or justice, merely about ratings achieved through the most sensational stories they can muster. Victims are no longer victims to be helped or given justice but a prurient source of entertainment for the masses.

The media need to reel their excesses back in. They need to start treating such cases with the respect they deserve, rather than as cash-cows to provide headlines. They need to learn when to hold back, when to wait until solid facts exist and to provide them, rather than speculating. They need to remember that they have the power to influence not only how individuals are perceived but also entire groups. If they sloppily present the evidence of victims they are not only doing them a disservice, but they risk causing all victims to be doubted, an effect we have already seen from too many poorly investigated and prosecuted cases. When dealing with such an emotive topic, we have a duty to not only ensure that the accused receive a fair trial but that the victims receive a fair hearing for their evidence, and that is a duty the media are not living up to. This isn’t entertainment, these are people’s lives and they deserve better.

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