What did Depp v Heard teach us? That justice and reality television are incompatible | Catherine Bennett

Aasked on CBS about loser Depp v Heard, Amber Heard’s lawyer, Elaine Bredehoft, put much of the blame on the courtroom cameras and the brutal atmosphere they generated. “It was like a Roman coliseum.”

Indeed, for the unclean, it was much more beautiful than that. Those of us who watch Depp’s lawyer, Camille Vasquez, disrupt Heard could argue that they are acting in a spirit of sober investigation and debate, motivated only by the desire to promote an understanding of U.S. legal proceedings. For example, I learned, between staring at Heard’s decorated braids and Vasquez’s. white suitsthat it is legal in the state of Virginia that cameras livestreams a celebrity witness offering horrific testimony about sexual abuse, yards from her alleged assailant.

Another lesson: the arid findings of two UK courts cannot compete, in the US, with Technicolor blows “Darvo“(” Denying, assaulting, and reversing victim and offender “, a common defense tactic in sexual assault and domestic violence trials). , if a celebrity witness knows that millions of viewers are examining her face and body language while opposition experts are speculating on the consequences of her alleged personality disorder.

Did Heard really cry in court or not? Diligent students remembered her acting coach testified that Heard struggled “acting wisely” produce real tears during a performance. On the other hand, non-acting wise – this point doesn’t seem to be recorded so widely – the coach has often seen Heard in real tears.

Now, courtesy of Heard-Depp’s intensive course on judicial justice, we understand well how such a commitment to total transparency of the court is likely to translate, once internet supporters are engaged, into an increase in women-hate abuse and selfishness. About that, Bredehoft said, the jury in this case had to be aware. “They have weekends, they have families, they have social media,” she said.

There was also a 10-day break allowing for further absorption of tribal internet sentiment before jurors returned to a courthouse besieged by #justiceforJohnny supporters: “How could they not be affected?” Bredehoft has been regularly balled for sour grapes, on social media.

In fact, she saw it coming. In february arguing against a live broadcast, Bredehoft prophesied how existing “anti-Amber networks” would use result videos. “What they’re going to do is take anything unfavorable – look,” she said. “They’ll take an out-of-context statement and play it over and over and over and over again.” That’s exactly what happened when Heard’s inconsistencies (about charitable gifts) weren’t enough without another monster. Depp’s lawyers, judging by his fans’ previous efforts during his London libel lawsuit, had more to gain from the harvest of such material. “Mr. Depp believes in transparency,” said his lawyer. The judge, Penney Azcarate, whose sole decision was livestream or not, concluded that the public did need more, in this case, than old school reports and illustrations: “I see no good reason not to do so.”

Perhaps the resulting festival of misogyny would not be predictable for any judge unfamiliar with social media, neither with the tendencies of the hand sphere, nor with the growing ambitions of court broadcasters. It is more difficult to understand why a judge would not understand the specific risks of a live broadcast of a case involving allegations of sexual violence, along with its potentially detrimental impact on future witnesses. Stanford Law School lawyer, Professor Michele Dauber, has called for Azcarate’s decision “the single worst decision I can think of in the context of intimate partner violence and sexual violence in recent history.”

The deterrent effect on female victims, after reporting a crime doubles as an audition for court broadcasting, is only one way in which forced public action actually conflicts with justice.

With Depp v Heard considered broadcastable, moderation in other courts may be portrayed, as it was erroneously by conspiratorial elements of the Ghislaine Maxwell audience, as a sinister cover-up. It gives undue influence to editors, to the court broadcasters whose profits soared as their discovery of Heard elicited more online mockery, more clicks, more histrionic tweets presenting the case as a duel.

Court TV: “Do you think there will be a clear winner in the end?” With the help of Heard, who says she is unable to pay the millions she owes in damages, Court TV has doubled her daytime ratings. British viewers have discovered a new and cheaper alternative to Netflix.

When British broadcasters last agitated for televised courtrooms, it was on the then credible basis that this innovation – as well as providing cheap content – would educate viewers and improve openness. Writing to the Prime Minister in 2012, representatives of the BBC, ITN and Sky said: “For too long Britain has lagged behind the rest of the world in open justice. The time has come for us to get back on track.” In the face of online death threats and violent TikTok memes, the main accepted risk of court broadcasting was usually its exploitation by certain defendants, such as the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. But predictably a Victim Support spokesman argued that, while justice had to be more transparent, “this does not mean that court cases should become a new form of reality television”.

Even if the transformation of one celebrity libel lawsuit, through live streaming, into the ongoing, one-sided demonization of its female participant does not add up to a case for limitation, Depp v Heard casts serious doubt on broadcasters ’claims of enhanced trust and transparency. . How does justice serve a court that is complicit in the values ​​of mass entertainment? If anything, live streaming, with the related character murder, has added to uncertainty, for many viewers at this circus, about the relative importance of a legal argument as opposed to the popularity of the fighters.

On justice, is it fair to force civilians, even actor-civilians, to act for justice? Anyway, at least she didn’t go down without explaining herself first Amber Heard never recognized a false cry.

Catherine Bennett is a columnist for Observer

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