Monday, 4 August 2008

Post #56 Hire a Hall / Everything (Camera contempta. - Sara Daniel, Iraq, Trial by Media, Dr Haneef)

I've just read the rather strange book, Voyage to a Stricken Land by Sara Daniel. Inter alia, she tells of having been the recipient of video material showing the attack on the DHL aircraft at Baghdad airport which was recorded by a French news crew, as described in this article. The weirdest thing about this is that, although the role of the news crew in the incident was a major furore at the time, Daniel doesn't mention their existence at all in this book. (The book is also one of those eclectic efforts where the timeline is all over the place. I don't know why authors can be bothered with such pretentious stuff; it just wears out the readers' patience.)

I can only assume that Daniel had a sensitivity in that matter which prompted her to just skip the subject; I can't imagine the glaring omission is a natural part of the narrative. Perhaps she simply didn't want to criticise her compatriots nor to try to justify their association with the jihadi group who carried out the attack.

The role of the camera's presence in encouraging or provoking incidents is a universal issue in these times. Apart from the capacity to invite everybody from terrorists to drunken, partying teenagers to try to score their fifteen minutes, it intrudes into the public's thought processes in more insidious ways. One of the most useless and reckless forms of this is the "perp-walk", an American invention, whereby a person arrested/charged by the police is paraded, by prior appointment, past the media. The corollary is when they've been put on trial and are subjected to being pursued to and from the courthouse. The media pack particularly love it when the target covers up with a coat or some other object and flees with the pack on their heels: it's great television.

I've begun to wonder why the judiciary ever allowed this malarkey to start in Australia. Our law doesn't contain any provision for punishment by public humiliation in this manner. It seems to have just entered some people's noggins that the suspect or convict is obliged to submit to this modern form of the stocks and pillory as part of the transactions of our system of jurisprudence. In fact the media become outraged when someone manages to avoid this ritual; particularly when employees of the state assist them in doing so. It's a scandal if someone is helped to leave the court via the underground carpark in a concealing vehicle and without paying their due of suffering under the cameras.

I finally lost all patience with these scumbags when I saw the photograph of the famous maybe-terrorist Dr Haneef wrapped in a blanket and huddled over barefoot in the back of a van. The cops couldn't find him a dignified suit of clothes to wear? Or shoes? And how do the photographers happen to be able to get close enough at the right time to take these shots? Recording of accused persons and witnesses approaching or leaving a court should be prohibited, as should recording of them without their consent in any other venue if it's going to be shown in connection with the case. The same goes for the convicted being conveyed from the court.

Every person under charge is innocent unless and until proven guilty. Recording them entering or leaving the court by any means should be a contempt of the court. The same goes for the aftermath of a trial. Whether they're walking away acquitted or being taken off to The Nick in a van with grille-covered windows, the public exposure of their situation in this way is, depending on the circumstances, an invasion of privacy or a potential influence on the effects of subsequent appeal proceedings which may produce an order for retrial. That is, if someone is granted retrial on appeal, the next jury to hear the case has seen them hauled off in the tumbril like the guilty dog they may not be. If they're acquitted on appeal, the media surely aren't going to run the story, "We were wrong!" with prominent footage of the vindicated one being kowtowed to by the offending news crews.

I'm not what the Americans fatuously call "liberal". If the right persons can be caught and absolutely proven guilty, I don't mind seeing the terrorists' carcasses swinging in the breeze from the lamp-posts along St Georges and Adelaide Terraces. I'd call that a nice set of decorations for Christmas. On the other hand, I don't want to see anyone blamed for any wrong they haven't done, whether it be great or small. Once the camera has seen and its edited view has been broadcast, the visual memory of the "guilt" is indelible. It remains to haunt the subject and their friends and family even when the charge is utterly refuted.

Of course the media will squawk and squeal if this prime-time fodder is withheld. The usual moans about "freedom of the press" and "freedom of speech" will be heard. This has nothing to do with "freedom of speech". It's about a repugnant grotesquerie, pure and simple. No political or reasoned legal opinion would be suppressed by not allowing these circuses.

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