Media/social media ethics or not
The principle is easy enough to understand; everyone has the same rights. Only, not really. Underprivileged and over privileged seem to not have any rights at all. Weird isn’t it? OK everyone knows underprivileged have to fight against poverty, for one thing. How can this compare to over privileged? Don’t get me wrong; it doesn’t. Fighting hunger is comparable to nothing.
However, many media nowadays have forgotten that over privileged people have the same basic human rights like the rest of us in the civilised, western world.
innocent until proven guilty
privacy (medical, financial etc)
Let’s take Mr. Johnny Depp as an example. Until recently, one of the most loved, most acclaimed Hollywood actors. For the last half decade or so, numerous media articles have been publishing fabricated news in regards to him, and while this particular trend was always favourable to tabloids (loved celebrities means sales/clicks in paper or digital form) the intent to viciously attack him is kind of new.
Move forward to almost a year ago, in late May 2016, when his now ex-wife, after filing for divorce due to «irreconcilable differences» a week prior, appeared in court favouring a facial bruise and asking for a DVRO on the grounds of domestic violence, which was granted temporarily to her until the hearing would take place two weeks later, a hearing that got postponed for two months due to Mr. Depp’s ex wife’s resistance to being deposed, a hearing which never took place due to her withdrawing her request a few days before it should have taken place on August 11th.
After the PRO dismissal with prejudice, the two ex partners settled their divorce.
Mr. Depp denied any and all allegations of him being violent towards his partner for the duration of the very public divorce proceedings.*
As quoted in People Magazine, Sgt. Marion Marrache stated that if there had been any signs of abuse, officers would have conducted an investigation, regardless of what Heard said had happened.
“On May 21, 2016, officers responded to a domestic incident radio call…” LAPD Sgt. Marlon Marrache says. “The person reporting the crime [Heard] did not insist on a report and no report was warranted. There was no evidence of any crime. A crime did not occur so the officers left the scene and left a business card.”
Someone would think after the divorce was finalised and his ex-wife moved on to a new love, instability and accusations would settle down. After all, it was their business. The abuse accusations were never proven, no court found him guilty due to the withdrawal of the DVRO request and with a joint statement every part of the relationship was deemed innocent of the accusations against them.
Social media and (progressive?) media alike used the accusations against Johnny Depp to bring awareness to the very serious social problem that is domestic abuse and domestic violence. Using as an example the world-famous case of Johnny Depp, they tried to bring awareness to DV victims who are not believed when they find the courage to admit the truth.
Johnny Depp is recognised all over the world, loved by millions of all over the world and many were shocked to learn that he was abusive towards his partner. Some outright denounced their love for him, others didn’t believe the accusations and, as time passed and due to many and different events that came into light, questioned his ex-wife’s motives and accusations giving room to social media to talk about «victim blaming» and «abuse apologists».
- for someone to blame the victim, there has to be a victim.
- to determine if someone is guilty or not there has to be a decision from a judge in regards to accusations.
- not believing abuse took place based on events and facts does not equal to defending the abuse.
- pointing out inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s story isn’t victim blaming.
To be clear, Johnny Depp was never found guilty of abuse, was never arrested for domestic violence. The police officers who answered the call the night of the incident were adamant they found no evidence of a crime. Had the hearing for a PRO (it’s where both sides present their evidence to be examined) taken place the officers were part of his witness list.
Going back to basic human rights, a person has the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. With that basic principle in mind, Johnny Depp is innocent to all accusations directed at him.
Johnny Depp shouldn’t have to pay the price for every person guilty of abusing their partner; he shouldn’t become the face of domestic violence because, no matter how famous he is, no matter how much awareness his name brings to DA, he was not found guilty of abuse. An argument I’ve read is that he also didn’t prove he was innocent. He didn’t have to. Again, basic human right, we don’t prove innocence, we prove guilt.
«The presumption of innocence, sometimes referred to by the Latin expression ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies), is the principle that one is considered innocent unless proven guilty.» This right is so important in modern democracies, constitutional monarchies and republics that many have explicitly included it in their legal codes and constitutions. (1)
There wasn’t a real trial in the court, but the case was judged by media. Trial by media found Johnny Depp guilty of abusing his wife. And media still do. Almost a year afterwards and while Mr. Depp has begun the promo tour for his new movie, many journalists not only bring the abuse accusations in their articles but also question his right to work.
«Media has now reincarnated itself into a ‘public court’ (Janta Adalat) and has started interfering into court proceedings. It completely overlooks the vital gap between an accused and a convict keeping at stake the golden principles of ‘presumption of innocence until proven guilty’ and ‘guilt beyond reasonable doubt’. Now, what we observe is media trial where the media itself does a separate investigation, builds a public opinion against the accused even before the court takes cognizance of the case. By this way, it prejudices the public and sometimes even judges and as a result the accused, that should be assumed innocent, is presumed as a criminal leaving all his rights and liberty unrepressed.» (10)
Bean Pears’ article in slashfilm among other things mentions:
Not only is Disney moving full steam ahead on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – the movie this stunt is ostensibly promoting – but Depp has also secured a lucrative role in Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series. This kind of publicity opportunity may generate a quick rush of “oh, how fun!” responses from fans who might not have been paying close attention, but it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than that for Depp to get back in the good graces of the rest of us.
But we live in a culture right now where it’s depressingly easy to predict how all this will shake out. The upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – which has earned some good buzz from early screenings – will make a ton of money, restore the franchise back to its glory days, and Depp’s career will continue to flourish. The only thing we can do is continue to point it out and hope that the broader issue of domestic abuse is eventually looked down upon in an industry which has a notoriously noxious history with women.
Or Michelle Ruiz’s article for Vogue:
«[…]And so it begins: Everyone is just going to pretend nothing ever happened with Johnny Depp.
Lest anyone forget (because I certainly can’t), the last time the world was watching and writing about Johnny Depp in a big way, he—surprise!—was being accused by his then-wife Amber Heard of physically and verbally abusing her throughout their 15-month marriage, including, according to her court filing, hitting her in the face with a cell phone, pulling her hair, and giving her a black eye. (An attorney for Depp responded to the abuse allegations by saying that Heard was accusing Depp of abuse only to secure a quick financial settlement in their divorce proceedings.) All of that was less than a year ago. Cut to Depp’s romp on the Pirates ride at Disneyland last night. (And cut to Heard being attacked on social media—called a liar, gold digger, and worse—over her rumored new romance with Elon Musk.)
Make no mistake, that was the start of his Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales promotion/personal redemption tour, and the hope is that everyone will employ selective memory loss, gloss over those domestic abuse allegations, move on, and continue to treat Depp with the reverence of the big fat movie star and rebel heartthrob that he has been for the past 30 years. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a male star was given a pass.
…. and pretending high-profile Hollywood men haven’t been accused of beating their wives or are under police investigation for committing a crime. It’s a concession repeatedly allowed to men, under the guise of “bad boys behaving badly,” and one that is seldom afforded to women. After all, the same Hollywood that’s now having a gas over Depp’s surprise visit to Disneyland a mere year after Heard’s abuse allegations has, for years, shunned Katherine Heigl (even relegating her to kitty litter commercial territory) for the sin of reportedly being “difficult” and “demanding.”
There is absolutely nothing normal about domestic violence, and I for one won’t be pretending those allegations were never levied against Depp, or Gibson, and certainly not the leader of the free world. I won’t be seeing their movies, or clicking on the puff pieces about them, or otherwise buying into Depp’s redemption lap. Business as usual? I don’t think so.»
The above two columnists forget the «innocent until proven guilty» or they have decided Mr. Depp is indeed guilty and not only that, but the essence of their articles is that we shouldn’t forget and we shouldn’t forgive Johnny Depp because of those accusations. Mr. Depp’s profession is being an actor. He’s a product that is going to be used for as long as he brings money to those who decide to employ him. Both Mr. Pierce and Mrs. Ruiz question Hollywood’s decision to continue to employ Mr. Depp.
So correct me if I’m wrong, but Mr. Depp’s right at working is put to question as well.
«Media bias can also impact the brand image and personal reputation of implicated firms and personnel, passing judgement before the jury has reached its decision. The justice system is turned on its head, as it were: first the punishment, then the trial! The personal consequences of what is commonly referred to as «media lynching» can be dire, both psychologically and socially, especially if the accusations are baseless. Careers can be irreparably damaged and brand names forever tarnished by these kinds of premature media judgements, even when the cases ultimately result in an acquittal.» (11)
So far, two basic human rights (innocent until proven guilty and his right to work) have been taken away from him. Let’s move to the third.
The right to privacy.
During his divorce, his ex wife sold to TMZ an illegally recorded video of him that wasn’t at the time submitted as evidence to the court (as «proof» of his quilt and after she had already signed to withdraw her PRO request) and also a photo of his injured finger that by default violated his medical privacy.
This is where it needs to be mentioned (even thought it’s a different matter) that at the time the video and the photo of his injured finger was leaked to TMZ, his ex wife had already signed to withdraw the RO request with prejudice.
«California’s Insurance Information and Privacy Protection Act (IIPPA) protects against unauthorized disclosure of PHI (Protected Health Information) by prohibiting unapproved information sharing for information collected from insurance applications and claims resolution.» (3)
Was TMZ’s publishing of Mr. Depp’s injured hand illegal? Most probably no. Was it ethical? Were Mr. Depp’s rights violated?
Recently we learned about his financial problems. In January 2017, he filed a lawsuit against The Management Group (TMG) over claims he has been the victim of «gross mismanagement» which has cost him «tens of millions of dollars».
According to documents filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court, Depp claimed the company and its owners, Joel and Robert Mandel, failed to properly pay his taxes, made unauthorised loans and overpaid for security and other services. The complaint stated: «As a result of years of gross mismanagement and sometimes outright fraud, Mr Depp lost tens of millions of dollars and has been forced to dispose of significant assets to pay for TMG’s self-dealing and gross misconduct. In essence, TMG treated Mr Depp’s income as their own, available to either TMG or third parties to draw upon as desired.»
Lawyer Michael Kump, representing TMG, said Depp’s lawsuit was a «fabrication» and the firm did «everything possible to protect Depp from his irresponsible and profligate spending». And TMG continued with publishing Mr. Depp’s expences, basically they exposed how he chose to spend his own money.
In contrast to their attitude towards to his ex wife’s allegations, media decided this time to not follow their advice and not blame the victim until the trial takes place, so article after article discussed Mr. Depp’s extravagant spending almost forgetting the original complaint from the actor. After TMG shared with the public their client’s spending habits, financial losses, we learn from court documents it’s them who want testimony redacted & court records sealed.
«Victim blaming» is a bad thing doesn’t apply when the victim is Johnny Depp. Whether he’s the accused or the accuser trial by media finds him guilty. Even for spending his own money.
Media doesn’t offer information any longer, they present opinions based on the authors’ life experiences, other people’s experiences, digital social justice and everything other than the case they write about. And be very afraid if you are rich, white, middle-aged male. You are guilty. You have no right to be considered innocent, you have no right to keep working, you have no right to privacy. Even if you are innocent.
But you already knew that, right?
Social media bloggers had taken a step further outright hating Mr. Johnny Depp (the authors of the articles above most probably haven’t seen the hate directed at him at social media by misinformed digital activists), ridiculing him and his spending habits, questioning his acting abilities.
Instead of criticising » victim blaming» and society’s role at questioning the victim, in this case -and by the same people- we have schadenfreude:
«pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. Borrowed from German into English and several other languages, it is a feeling of joy that comes from seeing or hearing about another person’s troubles or failures. It is an expression of pleasure or self-satisfaction at another’s failure.
The resulting negative attitude of the observer leads to a variety of feelings, such as anger, rage, embarrassment or satisfaction. It reveals that the pleasure in schadenfreude is due to the fact that the observer engages in a self-other comparison (with the target of schadenfreude as a comparison object). This indicates that observers experiencing schadenfreude typically recognizes that the target of schadenfreude suffers due to the misfortune. Hence, a situation involving schadenfreude often seems to provide an opportunity for a more favourable self-view and self enhancement». (8)
Because inherently most people like to feel superior to the other person. If someone is suffering, we get inward pleasure a) that their situation isn’t ours b) that we are somehow “making better” choices than the person who is suffering and, thus we can feel better about ourselves. A lot of people are insecure about themselves, and seeing others in a bad situation makes us inwardly happy especially those we don’t like.
There is almost an organised attempt by twitter/tumblr/social media group bloggers (who identify as feminists and/or fighting for social justice) to humiliate Johnny Depp.
«Humiliation involves abasement of pride and dignity, and with it loss of status and standing. The Latin root of ‘humiliation’ is ‘humus’, which translates as ‘earth’ or ‘dirt’. We all make certain status claims, however modest they may be. when we are humiliated, our status claims cannot so easily be recovered because, in this case, our very authority to make status claims has been called into question. People who are in the process of being humiliated are usually left stunned and speechless, and, more than that, voiceless. When criticizing people, especially people with low self-esteem, we must take care not to attack their authority to make the status claims that they make.
In short, humiliation is the public failure of one’s status claims. Their private failure amounts not to humiliation but to painful self-realization. Potentially humiliating episodes ought to be kept as private as possible.
To humiliate someone is to assert power over him by denying and destroying his status claims. To this day, humiliation remains a common form of punishment, abuse, and oppression; conversely, the dread of humiliation is a strong deterrent against crime. History has devised many forms of humiliating mob punishments. The last recorded use in England of the pillory dates back to 1830, and of stocks to 1872. Pillories and stocks immobilized victims in an uncomfortable and degrading position while people gathered excitedly to taunt, tease, and abuse them. Tarring and feathering, used in feudal Europe and its colonies in the early modern period, involved covering victims with hot tar and feathers before parading them on a cart or wooden rail.
Humiliation need not involve an act of violence or coercion. A person can readily be humiliated through more passive means such as being ignored or overlooked, taken for granted, or denied a certain right or privilege. He can also be humiliated by being rejected, abandoned, abused, betrayed, or used as a means-to-an-end rather than an end-in-himself.» (9)
It gives a different edge to the HuffPost, Mr. Pearce and Mrs. Ruiz’s (and many more) articles, no? They seem even worse in a sense, if we consider we don’t live in the 19th century, but in the 21st and humiliation methods can be found in media and their attempts to personalise the domestic violence problem in Hollywood on Mr. Depp.
Or are we going to accept and not question it because he’s Johnny Depp?
*Johnny Depp didn’t leak or sell his evidence to media/tabloids, but he was prepared for the PRO hearing if it had taken place. His ex-wife withrew her request before it had a chance to take place.