In the light of public reporting on noted people, has the notion of
“innocent until proven guilty” become irrelevant?
Answer: Today’s question
suggests the loss of innocence and possible criminality. My definition
of justice definitely does not include trial by media. Although the
principle is by no means universally respected, the presumption of
innocence, with the burden of proof to be assumed by the accuser, in an
impartial court of law, is a universal human right enshrined by
constitutions, legal codes and declarations around the world.
From a Bahá’í point of view, anyone who commits wrong, regardless of
their station in life, has done dishonour. The standard should be the
same for all. But the media’s insatiable thirst for scandal
means that all those who are elected or appointed to public office, be
they judges, government ministers, senators, presidents, prime
ministers, mayors, councillors, premiers or clerics, must show
rectitude of conduct. Like it or not, the behaviour of those who are in
the public eye, and assume the public trust, is going to be closely
scrutinized. For public figures, survivability these days
must include character beyond reproach.
But legal is not always moral and moral is not always legal. Another
important factor comes into play besides strict legality and the
necessary presumption of innocence. I refer to the company kept by
those who hold high office—or no office at all. A French saying comes
to mind. It goes something like this: “Tell me the company you keep and
I will tell you who you are. ” Birds of a feather hang
together. “Like will unto like”. The point is perennial.
With some rare exceptions, most of us are influenced by the company we
keep. At one end of the spectrum, we can wonder with good
reason why any public official would be keeping company with, request
the assistance of, or would offer employment to those who have criminal
records. Although guilt by association is by no means conclusive, one
would have to wonder why anyone, especially a public official, would
surround himself with those who have broken the law. -