The curious nature of political journalism is such that, when you’re down, you can be the subject of a feeding frenzy that feels like it’ll never quit. I do wonder if this is the case around the world or just specific to Scotland but, rightly or wrongly, Bill Walker MSP is on the receiving end of that feeding frenzy right now.
I daresay the story that he is building an extension to his house (are politicians not allowed to perform home maintenance these days?) with recently public funds, i.e. his salary, barely flickered on his subconscious given that numerous newspapers printed the story that he is the subject of a police investigation into alleged rape. And there it is, for ever more, he will not just be Bill Walker MSP, but The Alleged Rapist Bill Walker.
It is concerning how quickly and easily a reputation can be transformed by an unforgiving, relentless media these days. I of course haven’t the faintest idea about the truth behind any of the accusations but if our principles aren’t built around innocent until proven guilty then our society is in big trouble. If we are to assume a person is innocent, don’t we have a responsibility to protect and respect that presumed innocence and keep such investigations private until a guilty verdict is delivered, irrespective of how juicy a story it may be? At the very least for cases of this nature, surely.
Another one for post-Leveson days perhaps but it reminds me of Manchester United footballer Tom Cleverley who was splashed across the front page of The Sun for begging a woman for sex, the paper not considering that some chancer might have just been using the footballer’s identity to get lucky (which was indeed the case). The Sun had to make a humiliating, grovelling but brief apology.
Now, walking into a bar and pretending to be Bill Walker is not the best pick-up technique in the world, particularly in light of recent news stories, but trampling over lives to sell newspapers is a grubby, grubby business and should be done with caution. In fact, it just shouldn’t be done at all.
I could leave it there and some may agree while others may disagree, but this in itself is to cloud an already grim picture and I’d say I’m (admittedly knowingly) more culpable of a greater ill here.
I am sure I am not alone in my first thoughts from the Sunday press being ‘poor man, maybe he didn’t do it’. An alternative thought could have been ‘poor woman, maybe he did do it and he’ll get away with it’. As I say, I have no idea of the truth behind the issue and would rather not even be considering any of this, my preference being that the journalists went with a different story altogether.
It appears to still be the case that only 6.5% of rape claims end in a conviction (in England & Wales), and given that there are countless occasions of indecent assault and rape that don’t even get reported, I suppose one’s sympathies should really not be lying primarily with the odd person who guiltlessly gets caught up in some headlines for a day.
I do wonder if by wanting the names of accused men to be airbrushed out of newspapers I am perhaps guilty by association of the terrible and ongoing crime of helping to sweep the whole issue of rape under the carpet.
With a laddish, sex-obsessed, hard-drinking, fame-hungry, scantily-clad lifestyle constantly being peddled from the newsstands and, I believe, a major contributing factor to England and Wales (and Scotland?) having “one of the worst crime rates among developed nations for rapes”, maybe I wasn’t too far in the wrong laying the blame at journalists’ and tabloids’ doors after all, just for a distantly related, deeper problem.