In recent years, we’ve had numerous incidents of retail signs falling on innocent members of the public.
When a retail sign falls, it’s likely to do so in a highly public place – a mall, a high street, a shopping centre.
It can result in shockingly sudden, brutal, death and/or injury, witnessed by traumatised shoppers and shop workers. The witnesses will probably also include children. And recently, this has happened often (we’ll be discussing precisely how often in a later blog).
As we have seen from recent cases, the media will report the incident itself, including witness reports; and it will then report on the subsequent investigation, and on any inquests, and either civil or criminal court cases.
And whilst some sections of the tabloid media are (rightly) under fire for their conduct on other types of story, in this instance they are perfectly right to report the incidents. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that good, strong, fearless, independent reporting should be valued in a democracy.
It isn’t exaggeration, it isn’t spin, and it isn’t unfair on the industry. Most of the coverage I have seen has been moderated, factual and sensible.
And those who suggest that there have only been one or two falling signs, and it isn’t an “issue” it’s just media froth about one or two isolated incidents are, quite simply, wrong.
Indeed, if the media failed to cover this kind of thing, it would failing in its job as the Fourth Estate in our Constitution, the means of shedding light on the misdeeds of the Establishment and of powerful organisations and people.
And if a major brand or its suppliers mismanage a signage programme, resulting in death and injury, that incident should benefit from public scrutiny.
When reporting inquests and courts the media has what is called in law “absolute privilege”; trained, bona fide journalists (not citizen journalists) may report what is said in open court with impunity from prosecution for libel.
There’s a simple reason for this – it’s because justice must not only be done, but seen to be done. Barristers need to be able to present their arguments fearlessly, because justice demands it; and the public needs to see that justice is actually happening. Similar laws exist in most democratic countries.
The Barristers representing those opposed to you are professionally obligated to put forward their client’s best case; they won’t seek to blacken your name for the sake of it, but they won’t hesitate to do so if it helps to further their clients’ defence (or their claim).
Put simply, and within certain limits laid down by the law, they can pretty much accuse you of anything (phrasing the accusation as a question), the accusation can be reported in the media (irrespective of whether it is true or not), and even if that makes you very angry and you feel it is an injustice, there’s not a damned thing you can do about it, other than deny it.
And I’m sorry if you don’t like that, but the alternative is a justice system in which court hearings are held in private, the courts are not held to account by public opinion, and the power of the State is massively increased.
I believe they’re familiar with that system in North Korea, China and Zimbabwe.