|Sir Cliff Richard|
But did they for a moment stop to think it was only an allegation which had been laid at his door? Did it not occur to them that the allegation may not be true, in which case they'd be destroying the man's highly respected name there and then, for evermore? Of course not. He'd been accused of sexual abuse, so he - like anyone else in this situation - was fair game.
It isn't just the BBC who are quick to ruin the reputation of someone accused of a sex abuse crime; it's a mindset which permeates the entire media. And not just the traditional media: nowadays anyone accused of a crime has to contend with the baying, untutored mob, those social justice warriors who trawl the net to find targets for their unfettered bile. No proof is required to start a storm, just an accusation.
One pleasant individual stated a few days after my arrest in December 2012, that if I killed myself, 'It'd be the best Christmas prezzie ever.' How charming. After the jury in my eventual trial, 672 days later, returned immediately with a 'not guilty' verdict, another delightful man, who knew nothing of the case, apart from titbits of ill-informed internet gossip (and someone who had never met me), stated: 'Fuck that verdict, he's fucking guilty.'
Although it can be argued that the vast reach of social media can be empowering, as well as invaluable as a campaigning and marketing tool, it is also evident that terrible harm can be caused by the misuse of current communications technology. None more so than the spreading of malicious falsehoods served up as proven facts by the agenda driven, often ignorant, mob.
While it is true that local communities have always been prone to the malignant mischief caused by neighbourhood gossips and fantasy peddlers, the internet has provided these poisonous, malicious types with a means of disseminating their bile and smears to a global audience, (sometimes with the bonus of maintaining their own anonymity). A blatant lie or untrue rumour which is posted online in, say, Sheffield can be relayed and rebroadcast from Stuttgart to Shanghai, via San Francisco and Seattle, within a matter of minutes.
In this age of unbridled egos, in which every cruel fantasy can be peddled or attributed falsely to celebrities online, who is safe from the smears and poisonous lies of the malicious and unprincipled, who demand the absolute ‘right’ wilfully to destroy the lives and well-being of others (the vast majority of whom they have never even met), under the banner of ‘freedom of speech’?
At a time of ‘fake news’, the most outrageous falsehoods can suddenly be circulated as truth. For many disseminators of lies, the ultimate goal is to win the prize of a ‘retweet’ or a ‘like’ from a social media celebrity or politician, who can then be cited as a ‘believer’ in whichever fantasy or untruth is being peddled. And all of this can be achieved without the involvement of the traditional media, although it often appears that where the wilder reaches of the internet leads, the rest of the news agenda tends to follow.
And long after the trials are over and the judges and jurors have gone home, the fate of the acquitted is still being decided via the internet and the media: online posts and media coverage now seem to have a permanence that ensures spite, bile and lies will be accessible to all who care to type onto their keyboard a person’s name. This means that no matter how innocent a wrongly accused person has been proven to be in court, they are, in effect, permanently on trial online. The lies of perjurers and fantasists are linked to their names in perpetuity. I am indelibly tied to the vile lies of the chancer who made an allegation against me.
Would it surprise you to learn that although when I was charged with the lies laid at my door in 2013, a certain national newspaper covered nearly a half a page informing its readers of my plight, yet, when I was acquitted a year subsequently, there was no mention at all of the verdict. (How many pages in that newspaper would have been filled had I been found guilty?)
There used to be a saying among journalists: 'Today's news is tomorrow's fish and chip wrapping paper.' This is no longer the case as the internet now provides everyone with a permanent reminder of anyone who is even accused of a crime, even if never charged. Two hundred years ago criminals were branded on their foreheads; nowadays the search engines do the same job, only you just need to be accused to be marked for life. Ask Sir Cliff!