ITV announced yesterday that Philip Schofield would receive ‘disciplinary action’ for the now infamous ‘list of names’ stunt. Schofield handed the Prime Minister a list compiled from the Internet of alleged paedophiles related to abuse featured on Newsnight, claiming a senior Tory figure had abuse him. The list was inadvertently flashed to cameras, an action which was not intended. The PM did not take kindly to being handed the list, and warned Schofield’s actions were dangerous and could start a ‘witch-hunt’ against gay people.
So quite rightly, Schofield and ITV have now apologised for the incident, and an undisclosed disciplinary measure has been taken. It seems careless that a presenter with his experience would take the decision to run such as segment. But we aren’t just talking about the actions of just one presenter; we’re talking about the decisions made by the programme as a whole. Complete with floor managers, directors, researchers and a crew feeding information through the earpieces of the hosts. The question needs to be asked, how could this slip through the net? How does a reputable TV programme allow this to go through, without any of its officials taking careful consideration of what the consequences might be? Ofcom are investigating the programme, but it seems these incidents are just an example of what’s to come if the crowd mentality is to continue ‘outing’ the names of paedophiles.
Paedophilia is a crime the people hate more than even murder, terrorism or rape. There is ample justification for this conclusion. So it’s understandable that the public interest comes to a head when seeking justice. However, unless these are people selected for jury service, or members of the judiciary, they have no right what so ever to determine the guilt of the individuals. It’s important to distinguish this from the accusation Steve Messham made incorrectly regarding Lord McAlpine. Messham made his accusations to the police, and decided not to name his alleged abuser publically. His mistake was apologised for, despite it seeming to be the actions of those helping his case that informed him incorrectly identifying a photograph. However, when ‘celebrities’ such as wife of the Speaker Sally Bercow decide to post revealing messages on their twitter accounts, we get to those who should be condemned for taking the law into their own hands, and delivering a verdict for someone who has had no fair trial
Our liberty is our most fundamental freedom. It should not be the thumb of the angry Internet mob that decides when we are thrown to the lions. A right to a fair trial is also one of our oldest and most hallowed freedoms. As our oldest ‘right’ in law, since 1215 Britain has had the idea that our liberty is not to be taking away from us without serious consideration. On the stage of television, Schofield has abused his position, as many others have in the current outrage at the abuse of children. We are right to be outraged, but we should be patient and collected too. We cannot destroy the reputations or restrict the freedoms of individuals of which we have no real information on other than a Chinese whisper through the blogs of the Internet. I fear the actions of many during the post Savile investigation have been careless, and have not thought thoroughly about the accusations they spread.
We cannot let the victims of child abuse suffer in silence, and their plights must be heard. But it is not for us to hear them, nor is it for us to judge them. The courts hold the authority to do this, and if we are to find real, genuine justice to these horrendous crimes, that is the way in which it must be achieved.