Lessons learnt: The press and the acquittal of William Roache

Newspapers seem to have learnt some of the lessons from the past, and have studiously avoided destabilising such an important trial with unreliable and contentious reporting

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The “not guilty” verdict in the trial of William Roache – Ken Barlow of Coronation Street fame – has naturally attracted vast media and public attention. As with other high-profile court cases in recent weeks, it has certainly been a gripping and at times very uncomfortable story. For all concerned it seems to have been emotionally draining. The judge, however, was wise to tell the jurors that they should put their emotions to one side, and make a “cool-headed appraisal” of the evidence. Having done so, they acquitted the 81-year-old actor of two charges of rape and four of indecent assault. His reaction was commendably restrained. “There are no winners in this situation,” he said.

As the TV previews might put it, “What next?” One thing that will not happen now – mercifully – is any further inquiry into the conduct and mores of the media. The newspapers seem to have learnt some of the lessons at least from their misadventures in the past, and have studiously avoided destabilising such an important trial with unreliable and contentious reporting. With the personality involved, this was a more impressive achievement for many journalists than it may at first appear. We must hope that this restraint will continue to be applied now that justice has taken its course in this case, and that no conclusions about unrelated trials are made. Newspapers, as is their habit, tend to group all the “showbiz” trial stories together in their pages, but this does not seem to have had any material effect on the outcome. 

As for Mr Roache, the inevitable “insiders” have supposedly told the media that he will return to Coronation Street without undue delay. That is a matter for Mr Roache and ITV. As with every other citizen, it is right that, whatever the future holds for the veteran of the programme, the allegations against him, serious as they were, should not have any impact. We will have to see precisely how the programme’s producers manage the return of “our Ken”. That particular drama is not over yet.

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