Brand on the Pyre: How the Media Became Judge and Jury

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Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Russell Brand May Be Many Things, But He Deserves a Fair Trial

What has become of the cherished tradition of innocent until proven guilty? In the regrettable modern climate of trial by media, even a whiff of scandal is enough to condemn a man in the court of public opinion.

So it goes with the unsavoury allegations recently levelled against Russell Brand. While the claims themselves certainly warrant investigation, the baying mob seems to have already decided his guilt based on hearsay and decades-old rumours.

In a more sensible era, we might have paused to consider a few salient facts before passing judgment. Brand freely admits to being a wreck of a human being in his youth, mired in addiction and immorality. His wanton womanising was no secret – indeed it formed a prominent part of his public image, much encouraged by the very media organisations now so theatrically outraged.

Have these giants of broadcasting genuinely seen the error of promoting such a reprobate, or are they merely seizing a chance to take down an increasingly vocal critic? I know which seems more plausible. The timing of these accusations, coming when Brand is no longer a ratings winner but an anti-establishment icon, should give us pause.

Their past exploitation of his image for profit should raise questions about their motivations in the current situation. It is essential to recognise that these corporations may not be acting in good faith but rather capitalising on Brand’s downfall.

Of course, many argue that if he truly believes in his innocence, he should take both ‘The Times and Dispatches’ to court. You can only imagine their delight in such a prospect – a high-profile case they would probably profit from, even in defeat. After all, The Times made quite the fortune covering the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard saga, where every single day, with every single line of their abusive relationship laid bare for public scrutiny and the paper’s profit.

Now picture the media frenzy that would surround Russell Brand’s quest for justice in a civil court, where he openly acknowledges his checkered past. The man who admitted he lived a life of debauchery and excess in his books. With his claims of redemption through a relentless moral struggle all to be laid bare yet again without even having to buy his book this time.

But let us not ignore the immense courage required to accuse a media darling at the height of his fame. That power imbalance allowed misdeeds to go unchallenged then. It should not intimidate the pursuit of truth now, but it is how that truth manifests itself that is all important.

However, you have to ponder the appropriateness of a civil defamation case when the shadow of rape accusations looms large. Rape, a crime notably intricate to prosecute, should ideally find its resolution in the criminal courts.

And let it be unequivocally clear that the gravity of the accusations remains undiminished, and no shadow of doubt is cast upon the individuals who have come forward as alleged victims but these are criminal allegations.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

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Yet, the pursuit of justice transcends the realm of sensationalist headlines and hasty verdicts delivered via the medium of social media. True justice does not manifest itself when Rupert Murdoch singles out those he deems fit for vilification with a mere wave of his hand, crying ‘witch’ in a bid to bring them down.

What transpires in such instances is not a pursuit of justice but rather a descent into chaos – a realm devoid of true justice and the principles of law, one that succumbs to the caprices of mob rule.

In our sensible past, calmer heads would have prevailed. There would have been no witch burning, or at least not until after the trial. Now such quaint priorities are dismissed as apologist or victim-blaming, as emotions run hot. But it was for good reason that civilised peoples embraced due process. When allegations alone suffice to inflict punishment, we empower only those with the loudest voices, liars that strip the falsely accused of all defence.

Unfortunately, this is the insidious danger of trial by media. The allegations serve as pretext to annihilate dissenting voices. Guilt or innocence scarcely matters – the accusations alone suffice to inflict irreparable damage. Even if months from now a court acquits Mr Brand, will the mob accept that outcome, having already condemned him in their hearts? More likely they will denounce the court as complicit and the verdict as a travesty of justice.

If indeed crimes have been committed, the solemn duty is to establish it within the confines of a court of law, fortified by substantial evidence. And if guilty he should lose his liberty. To venture elsewhere is not the pursuit of justice but a return to a primitive form of mob vengeance where innocents as no part to play.

Thus the trial by media circumvents justice while claiming to uphold it. The verdict is declared before any evidence surfaces. The sentence is carried out in the form of public shaming. Due process is discarded for the smug righteousness of uninformed outrage. And the establishment quietly celebrates the demise of an inconvenient critic.

Worst is the fact that for many the argument has now transcended into the silliness of Brand’s political ideology. It really has to be said, that distinctions between left and right in the political spectrum bear scant significance; what reigns supreme is the unerring pursuit of truth. We must not succumb to the whims of the oligarchy or the machinations of the media, who would, with a mere gesture, pronounce judgment upon a life without affording it the sanctity of due process.

Both the alleged victims and Russell Brand deserve justice and a chance to be cleared or condemned. That justice is best served in the courts, not on Rupert Murdoch’s Red Tops or Twitter.

The crux lies not only in the perception of justice being served but in the unwavering assurance that justice is carried out independently and impartially.

Personally, I cannot claim to know the truth of the matter, so I will not guess at Brand’s guilt or innocence. But nor will I join the screeching hordes in premature condemnation. Whatever one thinks of the man, he deserves honest justice, not trial by the howling mob. We have a choice, one where we carry out due process or the alternative where Rupert Murdoch tells us who is guilty in a new age of darkness and chaos.

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