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Trial by Media – Bad for All

by Beth Divine 20 Oct 2018

There is a saying ‘trial by media’ that has been floating around ever since communication opened up, and people could receive information in vast amounts very quickly. While it is tremendously tempting to react with righteous outrage to news of appalling things done to smaller, weaker, or more vulnerable people, there are reasons why informal ‘name and shame’ campaigns, doxing, and similar actions should not be indulged in. (Doxing – sometimes spelt ‘doxxing’ is the practise of revealing private information about people online, usually addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses, with the aim of shaming or harassing people.)

Even if the person is guilty of the crime or action, beyond a shadow of a doubt, any unwonted information leaks can impact on the legal process of bringing them to justice. Having their name and their crime announced in public fora can mean that they are then denied their right to a fair trial, which means that a judge will legally bound to let them go – even if the proof off their guilt is clear and incontrovertible.

Also, it is the guilty party and the guilty party alone that is responsible for the crime, and doxing and internet harassment can have an impact on entire families and even their neighbours.

Even if the guilty party lives alone, has no immediate dependents and is completely unrepentant about his or her crimes, glorying in the horror of what they have done and willing to be splashed all over the press – we should still not resort to angry tirades, sweary outbursts and the use of language and ideas that we would be ashamed of using in the street, in front of colleagues or classmates. Not for their sake, but for yours. Descending to the level of any villain will only taint your soul and make you unkind, lacking in empathy and eager to attack. Instead, reserve your emotions and anger for the victims and their families. Send your respects, offer help if it is wanted and respect wishes to be left to recover or grieve in peace. Furious spews of language, no matter how well-intentioned, can sometimes add to the upset that the family is going through.

And of course, there is always the possibility that someone was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and they are innocent of the crime. Not only does media hysteria make it very hard for law enforcement to establish the facts – would you really stand up for someone that you have been told is a violent criminal? – it can ruin their life, making it all but impossible to recover from what would otherwise be a blip, easily explained and recovered from.

Johnny Depp’s recent acrimonious divorce from Amber Heard is a perfect example of why trial by media is a bad thing. First, the meagre facts as we know them: Depp was married to Heard, they were passionately blissful at first, then fell out of love and filed for divorce. During the bit of the divorce where property is divided up – so not during the reason behind the divorce, only at the stage where the judge gets to say how much of Depp’s fortune Heard was entitled to – Heard claimed that Depp was abusive, and produced a mobile phone picture of a light bruise on her face as ‘proof’. 

Rabid feminists, haters, and those who like to jump on any passing band wagon immediately started trashing Depp, but even all their rhetoric, when boiled down to statements said essentially: he hated her and he has a temper. Well, they were in the middle of a messy, public divorce, do we really think that he would think fondly and affectionately of her?

To break down what should have happened: the bruise should have been questioned – where did it come from? Does it match up with the item used to create it? How much pressure would have been needed to produce a bruise like that? Was it even a real bruise, or could it be theatrical make-up?

And, vitally, Johnny Depp should have been allowed a platform to respond to her claims – they both should have been given equal air time, being allowed to tell their side of the story, with an impartial, knowledgeable judge or mediator to verify or not the claims that were made. The fact that the claim was made and the story was so completely one-sided with no one caring to establish Depp’s version of events, means that Heard’s tale should be given little or no weight. Instead, the ‘fact’ that Depp is abusive swept the world and lost him valuable contracts, work he needed in order to rebuild his fortune. A fortune lost due to him trusting the wrong people, being free and easy with his generosity, and his spending his time visiting children in hospital, often in the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, instead of grubbing miserly over his pennies. Unlike others in his life, it seems.