OPINION: Guilty until… the media innuendo stops

‘Innocent until proven guilty’ has been the guiding principle of British justice since Magna Carta. And yet it is now being undermined by PR campaigns which have the questionable effect of implying guilt among those who are not even brought to a court, far less tried and acquitted.

Monk: ‘Each of these suggestions actually contributes to a slur on those investigated but cleared'
Monk: ‘Each of these suggestions actually contributes to a slur on those investigated but cleared'

The cash-for-honours scandal turned out, accor­ding to the Crown Prosecution Service, not to be a scandal at all. After assessing the evidence collected over 16 months by Scotland Yard, the CPS decided that it was insufficient to render likely a conviction by a jury. Thus it ordered no charges be brought.

All of which should have left Lord Levy and those investigated as potential co-conspirators without a stain on their characters. And yet this does not seem to be the case. There is unmistakable evidence of media management and a heavy spinning on behalf of Scotland Yard aimed at encouraging continuing suspicions of guilt. ‘This ain’t over yet’ is the message emerging from close to the Yard, which is presumably desperate that no-one thinks it to be either inefficient or overzealous in its investigation.

The briefings behind the headlines seem calculated to encourage report and comment, the result of which is perjorative to the reputations of those the law has deemed innocent. This includes hints that selective parts of the investigation’s findings could be made public so that the man in the street can make up his mind via the media. A slight variation is the line, vigorously pursued by sections of the media, that the whole police report could enter the public domain under parliamentary privilege by handing it to a Commons Committee to pursue.

Then there is the suggestion, no doubt to bolster the reputation of the detective heading the inquiry, that Assistant Commissioner John Yates was let down by a CPS that had somehow promised him support and yet got cold feet when it came to pressing charges. ‘Good old Yates has been hung out to dry after the CPS bottled it’ is the crude message.

All, some or none of the above media speculation may be wholly or partly true. But each actually contributes to a slur on those investigated but cleared without charge. Similar tactics have been visible in media stories following the failure of other investigations into such diverse matters as terrorism and football corruption. Again, the PR rationale has been to protect the reputations and integrity of the investigators at the expense of the investigated.

For innocent until proven guilty, read ‘guilty until the media innuendo stops’. Somehow it doesn’t have the same democratic ring to it.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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