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Trial by Media

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In a trial of a defendant accused of murder the mother of the dead young woman cries when shown pictures of the dead body of her badly injured daughter. To most of us that would seem to be a poignant moment. But surely it is not news. The BBC apparently disagrees, giving a full 800 words to this ever so natural motherly response.

But with the tragic story of Jo Yeates’ death and the search for her killer responsible journalism has taken a lengthy sabbatical. First we had the trial by media of Chris Jeffries, the landlord who was pilloried in the press as the killer. There was one problem however: he was entirely innocent of the crime. Such was the scale of the Red Tops’ frenzy that The Sun and The Daily Mirror were convicted for contempt of court and ordered to pay, respectively, £18,000 and £50,000. There was certainly much anguish in the press and parliament but are things much better now?

In its report the BBC is certainly not sinking to the depths of the Red Tops’ earlier behaviour, but is this ‘blow by blow’ account of the trial really in the public interest? Vincent Tabak, the defendant in this case, is still innocent of the crime of murder until, and if, a jury finds him guilty. But the incessant reporting of a trial makes anything approaching an ordinary life, should he (or any similar defedants) be found not guilty, all but impossible. After all, there’s no smoke without fire. Within the last week the BBC has published 14 separate articles on the subject on its main website alone. It may titillate but I doubt this is really what the Royal Charter means when it commissions the BBC to “inform, educate, and entertain.”

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