Saturday, 14 September 2013

Innocence, guilt and 'trial by tabloid.'

An absolute cornerstone of the law is that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Accused, arrested, charged and put in the dock, you are still not guilty of the crime until a jury of your peers has heard and seen the evidence against you and the defence your solicitor has made, and decided that the evidence against you convinces them beyond reasonable doubt that you did the Bad Thing.

Anyone who has any problem with that is a buckethead. Mistakes happen; even when it seems pretty clear that A did something awful to B, it might not actually be true. B could be a liar, or mistaken. Yet there are still plenty of people who will insist that, even after being acquitted of doing a Bad Thing, A probably did do it, really. So being accused of a crime is a pretty horrible thing. The fact that being accused of a crime now seems to be a cue for the tabloids to declare open season on your life, your family, friends, career and personal habits is also a pretty horrible thing. Just ask Christopher Jeffries or Colin Stagg, convicted of murder by the press rather than in a court of law and forever portrayed as dangerous and evil when both were wholly innocent and the crimes they were accused of later proven to have been committed by other people.

So it probably doesn't seem all that unreasonable to call for anonymity to be granted to those accused - but not yet convicted - of rape. Michael LeVell has been acquitted of rape but only after the papers had a gleeful rampage through every aspect of his personal life; alcoholism, infidelity and, for all I know or care, the odd overdue library book. As he is innocent according to the law, it's considered a bit much that his reputation has been so comprehensively trashed and now, apparently, an awful lot of people are going to carry on thinking that there's no smoke without fire and anyway he's got weird eyes so he must have done something, etc.

However, there is a bit of a problem when it comes to conflating the fates of those  accused of murder and those accused of rape, and the problem is that, in a rape case, the victim is there, in court, and able to name the person - had already, often repeatedly, named the person who committed the crime. In a case of murder by a stranger, or by someone outside of the immediate family, there's often quite a lot of room for error on the part of the police. The murder victim, being dead, is unable to name the criminal or pick him/her out of a lineup. The victim of rape who chooses to press charges is alive, is a witness to the crime and much less likely to be mistaken. (Yes, sometimes a victim is mistaken as to the identity of the attacker; that is one of many reasons why a person accused of a crime has the right to trial by jury. Etc.)

So there is, actually, a very good case for preventing the media from naming - and subsequently mounting an attack on every aspect of the life of - an individual accused of murder. There's a good case to be made for restricting the tendency of the press to rummage round and snark about the personal life of those accused of a crime to the extent that the accused has been convicted of the crime by the media before a trial occurs. There's a case for reminding the tabloid press that newspapers are not the equivalent of a jury.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Feeding the ever-hungry monsters and not letting them bite you.

I first heard the phrase at the London Bloggers Meetup in April, and while it was being discussed with regard to musicians, it applies equally well to writers (and artists, and photographers and jewellers, and probably people who make balloon animals as well). Maybe if you're under 21 and have grown up with social media as part of your landscape, it comes more easily to you - or maybe it's a question of how much of your self you are offering up with your work.

I got a little fright, and then I got a little surprise, last week. I'm not a total newcomer to the public eye - back in the 90s I did quite a bit of TV but (again) it was all a bit different. I could go and make a total willy of myself on some live-broadcast regional chatshow feeling quite comfortably secure that my mum wouldn't see it and that those of my mates who lived in the relevant area would be in the pub when it was on. These days, if you get pissed and depart from the official line on even some obscure late night satellite channel filler show, some bastard will have it up on YouTube before you've recovered from your hangover. So I was Googling myself, as you do, and to my horror found a link offering Pictures. Of me. Once I'd finished shrieking, I found that it wasn't actually that bad - it consisted of a couple of perfectly reasonable headshots and portraits that I had given someone permission to use when I was interviewed for their website a few years ago. Along with the current profile pic from my Facebook profile, which I hadn't given anyone any permissions about - or so I thought - as it was a gurny unflattering photo I'd chucked up there to show off a drastic hair restyle and not bothered to change.

No it wasn't this one

I still wouldn't have bothered, if not for a cheery, chatty email from someone organising an event I'm going to be involved in, which had attached a poster for that event. Which featured the gurny, unflattering Facebook photo that some clever little sod had merrily downloaded. I used to think that people who kept their Facebook profile photo as a cartoon character or a picture of a piece of cheese were being a bit twee - well, consider that a lesson learned. Naturally I immediately changed mine to a shot of the old badge tray, and then emailed the organiser a quickly-shot selfie which is probably only slightly less horrible than the one that was originally used but at least doesn't have my actual road where I live in the background.

random picture of public transport...

But the monsters still need feeding. I set up a Facebook page for the book, thinking oh well, OK, that's my book, hello adoring public, and then found that my own Facebook page, which had been a merry melting pot of old pals, former work colleagues and new acquaintances, was getting horribly unbalanced. I'm still totally defeated by Twitter, which remains in my mind the equivalent of shouting at passing cars. And now I'm thinking that my 'other identity' probably needs Facebook and Twitter accounts as well given that 'her' books are a bit different to a lot of 'mine' and therefore published under another name. For a while, I had another blog about my day job, a clean cute fluffy one, which ended up being more of a general rant thing so I started this one for More Rants as well as More Smut and meant to make the other one more cute and fluffy.

And then I remain amazed that I don't get a lot of sleep.