Journalists are bestowed with titles to the tune of “Watchdogs of Society”, “The fourth Estate” and are easily one of the primary facets of Democracy. While it is true that they provide the Mango Man with a voice at a national platform, there have been times when they have turned against the very ones they are responsible to. Here are a few cases of lives the media has ruined by excessive and exaggerated reporting of criminal trials, getting social media on board as well:
1) Amanda Knox: In 2007, Knox was charged with the murder of her roommate in Italy, where the two young women were studying and shared a house with 2 others. The roommate, Meredith Kercher was found dead with three cut marks on her throat and signs of sexual assault on her body. Even before trials were started, the Italian media painted Knox in a negative light in what many have termed a “Character Assassination.” British tabloids and American news agencies soon joined the media circus. The result of this was a polarised image of Knox. While some media houses painted her as a cold hearted, manipulative nymphomaniac, others portrayed her as a warm hearted and concerned friend, shattered over the loss of her roommate. When the criminal trial was ongoing, there was a parallel trial by media on Twitter. She was named “Foxy Knoxy” by media. To the British media she was a manipulator who used sex, while in the American media there was a PR firm and her family to closely manage her public image!
Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison, but she was released after serving 4 years.
2) Neda Soltani: Soltani’s is perhaps the most ridiculous yet an immensely aggravating case. A woman whose life was ruined overnight because of media carelessness. In 2009, Iran was lit up with protests in response to rigged presidential elections. Police opened fire on protesters, killing Neda Agha-Soltan, a woman who was not a protester but was alighting from a car nearby. She became the symbol of anger world over, like Katniss from Hunger Games, only it was not her. Western media ran a quick Facebook search and assumed the woman was Neda Soltani, the only resemblance being first name and that both women wore headscarves. Neda was a perfectly alive school-teacher. She realised what had happened after friends and relatives told her she was all over CNN. Soon, her face was on billboards and placards and just about everywhere. Hunted by the Iranian government for absolutely no fault of hers, she had to buy her escape out of the country, ending up in a German refugee camp.
3) Casey Anthony: The case of Casey Anthony, a mother accused of murdering her 3 year old daughter, was named “Social Media Trial of the Century” by Time magazine. A journalist called Grace on the channel HNL heralded this story. Soon, it was almost all the channel focused on with many others joining the club. Grace called Anthony a “tot mom”, and allegations about her being a bad mother who liked to party instead were flung. Media reporting reached such a level that people were infuriated when Anthony was granted bail. HNL’s ratings reached a high and other news channels immediately jumped onto the bandwagon, names such as Fox News and CNN. Speculations about the reason for this Media interest were many, one being the novel-like thrill of an unsolved murder. “Legal experts” on news channels declared Anthony to be the murderer before she was given a day in court, enraging the defense.
4) Jasleen Kaur: A recent case in our country would be that of Jasleen Kaur and Social Media. Kaur, a student of DU, posted a picture of a man on social media alleging that he had hurled obscenities at her at a signal, then challenged her to do something about it. The post spread like wildfire and soon everyone had their wisdom to share with words like “Patriarchy” and “Objectification” infused for good measure. Arvind Kejriwal offered her support in addition to all the uproar on social media. This happened before a police questioning could take place. While it may be true that the man did indeed do what he was accused of, but trial by media does not allow for a chance for legalities to be followed. Ultimately, a strong public perception is formed, usually in favour of one party, botching up the investigation.
5) Margarett Best: Best, a Canadian politician was on a paid medical trip. A journalist found a photo of her vacationing with her friend in a Mexican resort while surfing Facebook. The journalist of Star immediately jumped to the conclusion that she was vacationing with tax payer’s money, published the story to outrage. They did not bother checking with Best for comment, pushing ahead the story that she had faked illness. If they had, they would have known that the photo was at least 5 years old. After the fiasco, they had to publish a front page apology, stating that the editor had not made the effort to recheck Best’s photo.