Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Newspaper unjustly maligns an innocent man

Last week, a UK newspaper reached a new low for irresponsibility when it unjustly maligned an innocent man wrongly accused of sexual assault by gratuitously posting his photo for no good purpose.  It was a needless intrusion on an innocent man's dignity, and it might might even have been done for laughs.

The newspaper reported that a 29-year-old sleeping female passenger awoke to find a male stranger groping her chest.  She left the carriage, the report said, in shock, and then returned to snap a photo of the man she claimed attacked her.  She got off the train at the next stop and contacted the police.

Although the woman contacted police immediately, for reasons not revealed in the news report, the police waited three months after the alleged attack to release the photo the woman had taken.

The innocent male passenger came forward and was interviewed by the police. The police said they were able to eliminate him from their inquiries and that he is innocent.  It was said to be a case of mistaken identity, and the police said no further action would be taken against him.

So what does the newspaper do?  It publishes a news report with the headline, "Police rule out suspect in photograph taken by woman sexually assaulted on a train." And it includes in the report the photograph of the innocent sleeping man!  We've included a photo of the news report here, but we've obscured the sleeping man's face, which is plainly visible in the photo.

The man wasn't just innocent, he was apparently sleeping during the entire time the alleged incident occurred. Moreover, he had his photograph secretly taken, only to see his face splashed all over the British media three months later, accused of a heinous crime.  And then, even after he's cleared, a major UK newspaper with a massive circulation publishes his photo once more for good measure. And for what purpose?

Two years ago, British politicians who opposed a change in the law that would have granted persons accused of sexual assault limited anonymity successfully argued that anonymity would prevent some rape victims from identitifying their attackers. That rationale carried the day in the UK, and legal anonymity for the presumptively innocent did not become the law.

But even that rationale would not have justified this gratuitous photo identification of the wrongly accused man.  We can only hope that the man did not suffer the unconscionable stigmatization that too often accompanies the publicity of sexual assault accusations. In the court of public opinion, for too many people, even a wrongful accusation is its own conviction.

A link of the story to a different newspaperhttp://news.africanseer.com/world/international/194549-police-admit-they-got-it-wrong-after-circulating-a-photograph-of-a-man-they-thought-had-sexually-assaulted-a-woman-on-a-train.html