The firing brigade

How should a media boss react when an employee is accused of a crime? Whatever he does, he risks trouble, says Tim Luckhurst

Now that the euphoria of his acquittal has subsided, John Leslie may be forgiven for doubting the accuracy of the judge's declaration that he left court "without a single stain on his character". The smear and innuendo to which he has been subjected since Matthew Wright identified him as Ulrika Jonsson's alleged rapist in a live TV broadcast last October has cost Leslie his job and his livelihood. His vindication and the award of costs in his favour can never entirely compensate for the misery inflicted on him.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, has called for a parliamentary inquiry into whether rape defendants should be given anonymity to protect them from "trial by media". But would anonymity provide protection? Would it have prevented Leslie's dismissal, or stopped colleagues and potential employers in the TV industry discussing and believing the allegations made against him?

One television presenter says, "It is a problem. Someone fabricates an accusation of assault against you because she sniffs the chance to get her face known. You shouldn't have to prove it's not true - that's not supposed to be the way justice works - but the channel wants proof. If it gets out, ratings may take a hit. In those cases, it is too easy just to take you off screen."

A board member of a British media group explains, "It is cruel. Absolute truth is not your only concern. You have to juggle potential damage to the show, the ratings and the company against questions of natural justice. It would be naive not to acknowledge that such allegations can be fabricated. But that doesn't stop customers believing them. You have to consider the effect of that."

Mike Emmott, an adviser on employee relations at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, agrees that media companies face special difficulties. "Most employers are cautious about taking disciplinary action against an employee until a criminal case is resolved, but a media employer is under unique pressures. There is more at stake than legality. Reputations damage quickly.The time it takes to bring such a case to trial may be too long to wait. Its business could be damaged by the allegations."

John Fray, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, acknowledges that media employers must consider their viewing figures, but for him justice takes precedence. Fray argues that in Leslie's case "suspension would have been more sensible. The fact that people in these jobs are so vulnerable does put an added onus on the employer to think about how to protect them."

That is not easy. When I was a newspaper executive, an allegation of serious misconduct was made against one of my correspondents. The correspondent swore it was false, and I was inclined to believe that. But I was certain it would damage the standing of the title if it became public. I sent the correspondent home and made urgent enquiries. I was lucky. Proof emerged quickly that the allegation was false. What should I have done if the story had reached the public domain before I had the evidence with which to disprove it?

The editor of The Observer, Roger Alton, says, "Of course you have a legitimate interest in protecting your title, but to do that you have to conduct your own inquiry. I would suspend, offer help and reach a final conclusion only when the full facts had been established."

ButEmmott says a media company confronted by lurid allegations about a household-name presenter does not have that luxury. Ratings, revenues and public trust are susceptible to immediate damage. Sacking becomes an option.

John Leslie is not the first media face to discover the consequences of that logic. He will not be the last. Legally and morally, his vindication is complete, but that is no guarantee that other media employers will not move to end the careers of other stars against whom equally spurious allegations are made in future. Share prices can respond quickly to callous damage-limitation. There are tough chief executives in television-land who regard sacking a presenter who has become a liability as a fiduciary duty, not a grave injustice - whether the accused is guilty or not.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Cambridge / London - £47,000

£40000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing ...

Sauce Recruitment: Sales Executive - Consumer Exhibition - 12 month Fixed Term Con

£20000 - £22000 per annum + up to £22K + commission : Sauce Recruitment: The ...

Sauce Recruitment: Senior Sales Executive - Premium Food and Drink Events

£24000 - £26000 per annum + up to £26K + team commission: Sauce Recruitment: H...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Planning & Analysis Analyst (FP&A)- Entertainment

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A major film studio are looking ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen