Trial By Publicity: Its Joy and Agony!
How would you feel if you’re the subject of scrutiny, embarrassment and humiliation in public? Darn, right? You see, in any humiliation, there are always two faces of the coin: a sad face and a happy face, i.e, there are always two opposing parties involved. Sure, you may already have an idea what I’m driving at, but if you decide to continue reading this, you will clearly understand the perspective from my side.
I am not going to dwell on petty embarrassments like fashion blunders, farting in subways and in other public places; being insulted by a professor in school; being bullied by an arrogant classmate, office mate or boss; or by just an annual naked “freedom” run of a certain fraternity or sorority organizations. These kinds of shameful incidents could be merely considered as a sheer joke or a hoax to treat or trick a particular group of audience, as an excuse to ignore the feelings of shame. These forms of humiliations, at least, could also serve as a challenge to strive more and be successful in the long run.
But, there are moments in our lives that we face a sense of ignominy as a consequence of our bad moves or by other people’s wrongdoings which we end up bearing the brunt, and which could have adverse impact on our persona as a whole, our self-esteem, and particularly on our health, such as stress, depression or in worst case, tragic incidents.
Thus, what will be discussed here rather is the type of embarrassment or humiliation faced in public trials wherein the entire personal background information and properties of the person concerned are being exposed, investigated, questioned, showed and reported via the tri-media, thus affecting not only the reputation of the person being probed but also that of his or her extended families, despite the person’s declared innocence. The said trial could involve so-called “big ticket” illegal activities such as malversation, corruption, bribery, immoral acts and the like, allegedly committed by certain top managers in Government or by the “big fishes” in large quasi-public or private institutions.
The televised long hours of public hearings regardless of the venue (be it judicial or legislative ) and the valid provocative interrogations posed upon by the investigating body could very well affect the physical, psychological and emotional state of the person subject of the probe, irrespective of whether the person is guilty or not. Gathering the relevant materials to prove one’s innocence and responding to the queries are definitely tedious and mind boggling on the part of the person being questioned. The person’s private life will be uncovered, without consent, especially if the pertinent documents (Internal Revenue Tax Payments, Transfer Certificate of Titles for real estate properties, Statement of Assets and Liabilities, etc.) are publicly accessible and available. There are times though that the investigating body via the media will attempt to unravel the person’s deepest secrets, dirty or not, so as to find out if there’s something that could directly or indirectly affect the person’s integrity, especially so if he or she has obviously committed wrong but still keeps denying the allegations.
Most of the time, people being subjected to public trials with media coverage are the who’s who in Government and other large institutions implicated in scandals and irregularities. The investigating body and its staff will look for data from all possible sources to the extent of even utilizing irrelevant information, which turns out to be helpful in finding out if there’s something that could affect the person’s reputation at the end of the day. In this case, the media serves as an ally of Governments in a way but of course there may be other selfish reasons behind media’s involvement. Media people would not waste their air time minutes on “small scale” transactions by the way. They would always be present in celebrated or sensational cases, even willing to use their prime time to telecast the event, and also trying to unearth provocative information about the person in question for certain reasons, which sometimes could be perceived as going beyond their journalistic responsibilities. This is the reason why people being probed feel so embarrassed, harassed, and humiliated, leaving with no option and as advised by their lawyers and cohorts to exercise their rights of privacy and privileges against self incrimination. But we all know that the said rights and privileges under the law must be beyond any cloud of doubt so as not to raise further questions from the probing body and the public as well, otherwise, it would only make the person being investigated look like blameworthy.
I have witnessed people being questioned in congressional enquires, people in power who have been accused of amassing government funds or diverting funds contrary to law . Even if the person is confident that he is innocent, the fact however, that there are allegations against him and he or she is being invited to shed light on the issue, is already humbling on his part. How much more if there’s substantial proof and credible witnesses that could pin the person down? The legislative and judicial proceedings can be so vexing and wearisome, as such I can simply understand the sorrows and agonies of these people. Some of them became frail and sickly due to sleepless nights, and of course aside from the reputation damage caused by the said enquiries, impacting on the person’s future career , political life and professional growth. But these are harsh realities of life, one has to pay penalties for a wrongdoing and these investigations merely serve as preliminary step of the never ending legal process.
We’ve read two recent examples about the allegations thrown at two men of esteem and respect, the IMF Chief Executive Dominique Strauss-Kahn and NY Representative Anthony Weiner in relation to sex related scandals. But due to the said allegations, these men were forced to leave their high-profile posts and may have probably lost their self-dignity and pride, by just a “click of their fingers”, their fault so to speak! Imagine, these people worked for so many long years to build their unquestionable and honorable reputation but because of the said humbling experience, all what they have, seemed to have all gone, including their much loved professions and some close friends around them, i.e., on the assumption that so called honor, reputation and laurels are still important to them.
Another situation pertains to that of a Cabinet Secretary and a top brass military chief who committed suicide because of severe depression as a result of the enquiries related to corruption in the military. I could only surmise that he was not able to manage the televised blow-by-blow proceedings which basically downgraded his stellar academic and professional background due to serious allegations hurled at him and his family. It was a tragic incident as he pulled the trigger on his head, his blood flowing on his mother’s grave. Just like the investigative committee and the public observing the hearings, I don’t have any idea whether the man was guilty or not, he was supposedly still innocent until proven guilty in court, but what happened was truly saddening and shocking. Similar tragic incidents of this nature also happen in other countries. Japanese officials guilty of irregularities for example do opt to commit hara-kiri (death penalty), due to shame and embarrassment.
In a scenario where the person being questioned appeared to have committed or actively participated in the alleged crime based on evidences presented, the public opinion can easily be elicited and overwhelming. Press freedom, the role of media and public perception are highlighted in this case. This is where people are in awe on how the person involved was able to squander the resources of government in so many years without being discovered immediately. The social networking sites are quite successful in polarizing and provoking its readers to comment on this kind of issues.
While investigations of this sort have many drawbacks, two of which are sometimes labeled as plain political grand standing or witch hunting, we can’t also deny the fact that most of the times, the allegations can apparently be true at the end of the day, after a court ruling is served convicting the accused even if it started only from a simple hearsay or mere allegations . As others would say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire and that small things come from big things. As such, these kinds of deliberations in any investigative venue are warranted in order to catch those people who have allegedly contributed to a particular country’s economic downfall because of inefficiency, unethical behaviors and corruption. This is where the joy and success of trial by publicity comes in. The investigative body with the help of the media and the public can be efficient in disclosing information that would be able to assist Government in curbing and eradicating the said illegal activities through formulation of new reforms, enhancement of existing laws and enactment of new laws.
There have been studies which showed that public opinion really matters in effective governance. Transparency and accountability are deemed important in any major government transactions. People handling projects or any operations for that matter should be accountable for whatever is lost and should pay the price for what has been badly done. The said incidents are not isolated, it is also happening in any parts of the globe. Inviting and bringing accountable people for any alleged wrongdoing to any investigative body for questioning should always be welcomed. It should not be considered as a “slap on their faces”. In fact, it should serve as a grim reminder not only to the accused person but for all of us, to learn from our mistakes. Who knows, the one being invited could even treat the same as a slap on the faces of the members of the investigative body, especially if he or she is truly innocent about the accusations.
However, there are times that we question ourselves, why should we be worried or feel humiliated if in our hearts we can prove to the whole world that we are innocent and has got nothing to do with the allegations? Why would we be afraid and stressed out in responding to valid and offensive queries, for the betterment of our Governments? Wouldn’t we be proud to participate in said deliberations? WHY?
What do you think my dear readers?