These past few weeks have been an absolute gold mine for the media. The BBC are under fire for the allegations that Jimmy Savile, that once well-beloved children’s TV presenter, was one of the most prolific sex offenders in British history. The ball started rolling when ITV broadcast a documentary three weeks ago investigating claims that Jimmy Savile was a hebephile (that is, having sexual interest in children aged 11 to 14) and that he abused young girls by exploiting his celebrity status. It is alleged that a wide range of people were well aware of what was going on; the BBC’s own documentary on Panorama went further, and implied that the Newsnight investigation was shelved because BBC executives thought it would clash with their Christmas tributes to Savile.
Each day, more and more victims are coming forwards. The number is close to 300 victims now, and each day, a brand new one is shown to the world on breakfast television. I mean, it’s in the public interest to listen to their stories, to eagerly watch their tears, and then discuss in public and in private whether they are to be believed or not. We have to know every development in this rollercoaster of a story, and the media are only too happy to provide. They’ve got the even juicer scoop of potential paedophile rings centring on BBC Television Centre and potentially even Downing Street. I really can’t wait for the weeks of speculation and gossip!
Uh, can anyone else see the problem in this?
Well, aside from using this situation and the genuine pain of people to insult the BBC, I mean. That always happens. What I’m talking about is the proliferation of this case in the media. There isn’t anyone in the country unaware of this case. Everyone has their own opinion on it, be it that Savile was always creepy and always a potential paedo (which is the wrong term anyway) or that they’re unsure and think that some of this is absolute nonsense.
And therein lies the problem.
Now that it has emerged that there was possibly a ring of child abusers with connections to the BBC studios operating in the seventies, there is the potential to arrest and try suspects. Sure, Savile’s dead and Gary Glitter – also questioned in connection to the Savile case – is already in prison, but what of others? A ring can hardly consist of two members. There are other people involved in this, people who are still alive and out of prison, people who are still likely to be caught.
But how can they possibly be tried now?
Our legal system depends on ‘innocent until proven guilty’. The legal system rests on the presumption of innocence. The burden of proof falls on the prosecution to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the suspect is guilty. This system is in place to prevent a suspect from being convicted on the basis of a jury’s bias. That is how the legal system works. That is why the media are forbidden from reporting on active trials and police investigations; a spin is always added, somewhere, and it will influence how people perceive a criminal case. This is why juries are forbidden from outside influences when they are overseeing a trial. These are factors which affect how they will judge the case. A criminal case has to be judged purely on the evidence which is presented at trial.
How can anyone connected to the Savile abuse case possibly get a fair trial?
If any member of the alleged ring of abusers are ever caught and put on trial, the jury will have personal opinions on this case. They will know the details from their newspaper. They will know the names and faces of the victims from breakfast television. They’ll have opinions from a hundred and one bloggers (including me) buzzing around in their heads. They will have gone into that court room with a verdict already decided in their heads. This is unjust. I hate to be the one that says this, but sometimes, the rights of a criminal is just as important as the rights of a victim. Everyone deserves a fair and just trial. It is morally wrong to pronounce someone guilty just because the media tells you they are guilty. Guilt has to be determined beyond reasonable doubt; if the slightest part of a juror’s mind doubts the evidence presented before them, then they cannot give a guilty verdict.
Everyone has the right to a fair trial by a jury of their peers.
You cannot ignore the rights of a criminal just because they’re ‘obviously’ guilty. The law should not work like that. The media are being irresponsible in not controlling how they are reporting on this case. They’ve effectively prevented a fair trial from ever taking place. A good defence team will easily be able to make an appeals case on the basis of jury bias. In other words: well done media! You’ve just prevented anyone from getting convicted if they were connected to the Savile abuse case! I just hope they can feel proud of their achievement.