A Different Take On Leaving Neverland
Much has been made of Dan Reed’s documentary of Michael Jackson’s alleged grooming and abuse of minors, but little of the legal ramifications and culture which the documentary and the discussion around it has reinforced has reinforced. It’s time to change the conversation.
Over recent years, with the #MeToo movement and the spate of accusations that came with it, as well as numerous accusations of child sexual exploitation and the ever-present political scandals, the ideas of trial by media and trial by public opinion have pervaded within society. The doctrine of innocent until proven guilty has been decimated, and, though this shouldn’t have any impact on the judiciary, that could soon change.
Trial by public opinion has been particularly important during the recent revival of the Michael Jackson saga. There are, naturally, a range of views, and these have manifested themselves in sophisticated propaganda campaigns.
This became especially apparent when an advertisement appeared on a red London bus declaring the late singer’s innocence, which was ridiculed as a result of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ban on fast food adverts on buses in the capital.
Public opinion, though, is mostly relevant when it translates into a media presence, though, because this is where it becomes influential. There are two different ways in which public opinion can be expressed through the media: social media posts, or traditional media formats — even if this is a YouTube video, rather than a TV show.
Social media fuels a toxic and polarised conversation. TV and traditional formats attempt, by and large, to inform the conversation, but often fail due to two things. Firstly, these formats encourage verdicts and judgements, creating the problems associated with these formats. Secondly, people involved with these debates and discussions will often fail to understand key concepts, or otherwise misinform the public.
This has also been clearly evident during the public discussion resulting from the Madeleine McCann documentary, and it is perhaps here more alarming. This is a case which is ongoing, and could still result in a criminal conviction, and, as such, trial by media may sway jurors in any eventual prosecution, or just simply cause hell for those in the limelight as suspects, at least some of whom may be innocent.
The human desires for clarity and justice are manifest, and so the conclusion that many have come to, that Michael Jackson is guilty of the crimes, is understandable. There are very few people who debate the guilt, for example, of Jimmy Savile, despite him dying before the accusations against him came to the fore, and thus the fact that he’s never been convicted.
But with less evidence for Michael Jackson’s guilt and far fewer accusations, there must still be some level of doubt, and so the assessment that the majority have come to may be rash and unfair, even if likely.
Instead of embroiling ourselves in time-consuming debates about particular cases, it’s high time we refocus the conversation onto preventing similar cases in the future, and the media will have a huge role to play in this.
With Michael Jackson’s case, we should look at how celebrities are scrutinised by the media and how those who dare to scrutinise them are treated. Martin Bashir, who made the documentary Living with Michael Jackson in 2003, was attacked, to put it mildly, and was silenced by many people even from within the mainstream media industry.
It cannot be in the future that the exercise of press freedom is frowned upon in such a way. We must ensure that those who wish to expose what they see as wrongdoing are allowed to do so — with scrutiny, but nonetheless accommodated in their aims.
Similarly, there are huge improvements to make with regard to the Madeleine McCann case. Firstly, the coordination between British and Portuguese police was less than impressive. Secondly, the police have been alleged to have only pursued leads favourable to the McCanns, and, at the same time, lies made up by Portuguese police early in the investigation led to years of abuse for the parents.
Of course, human nature is to theorise, speculate, and analyse. It is, therefore, not out-of-the-ordinary for humans to think about crimes analytically and create rumours about them.
However, if we can remove ourselves and take a step back, we will see that there are far larger problems to be solved, and that our discussion and speculation is one of those problems.