Jane Bradley: Social media is now judge and jury

Likes for Jian Ghomeshi's Facebook page plummeted after allegations. Picture: Getty
Likes for Jian Ghomeshi's Facebook page plummeted after allegations. Picture: Getty
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THERE is a saga unfolding on the other side of the Atlantic that is proving to be one of the most difficult celebrity scandals to judge since Operation Yew Tree.

A popular Canadian radio show host, Jian Ghomeshi, was sacked from his job on the cultural affairs show Q last Sunday, amid claims that a seedy side to his personal life was about to be uncovered.

Immediately after his ousting, the CBC star took to his Facebook page and published a statement detailing his side of the story. He could have done what his employers apparently suggested and slipped quietly out of the public eye. He didn’t.

He told how he was the subject of a smear campaign by an ex-girlfriend and a freelance writer who was known “not to be a fan” of Ghomeshi – so far, so very Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom – who were plotting to expose him as an abusive sex pest.

In the shockingly open – and extremely lengthy – outpouring on his personal page, Ghomeshi admitted: “Let me be the first to say that my tastes in the bedroom may not be palatable to some folks.”

His relationship with his ex-girlfriend, he insisted, was talked about between them as being like “a mild form of Fifty Shades of Grey” – but was, he claimed, 100 per cent consensual. However, a few days later, the allegations became more serious.

A Toronto-based newspaper revealed that it had, months earlier, done “due diligence” on the story after interviewing a group of women who claimed Ghomeshi had been unreasonably rough, in some cases abusive, with them, but had previously decided not to run it, due to the women’s refusal to go on the record.

Since then, a total of eight females have come forward to state that they have been mistreated in some form by Ghomeshi – from Canadian actress Lucy DeCoutere to an unnamed CBC employee who claimed he had uttered foul and abusive words to her during a story meeting.

But what has been so very compelling about this story has been the ebb and flow of public opinion on 47-year-old Ghomeshi. When the news broke, there was an outpouring of support for the handsome celebrity, who has a dedicated army of super fans. Early this week, people wrote in their thousands that they “knew” he could not be guilty – that they “couldn’t believe” he’d been subjected to such treatment. Indeed, when the story related to only anonymous women, everyone was behind him. He was a star, their beloved; he could do no wrong.

But now one of the women, DeCoutre, has gone on the record, putting forward details of Ghomeshi’s alleged violent attacks on her following a series of dates a decade ago, the tide has turned.

The number of “likes” on his Facebook page has plummeted. Even friends, such as musician Owen Pallett, who initially lent his voice to the pro-Ghomeshi camp, has now said that how his friendship with the broadcaster will continue “remains to be seen”, stating blankly: “Jian Ghomeshi beats women.”

Ghomeshi has been sacked from a post he has held for almost eight years – not suspended pending an investigation, but immediately sacked. He has been told repeatedly by former fans on social media that he is a terrible person, that the public will never again respect him.

So far in Canada, there has been no court case or, as yet, any suggestion that there is likely to be one, although the picture which is forming of Ghomeshi becomes more unsavoury by the day. His employer has said nothing. It is a tale of “he said, she said”, which has been dragged through the media – both traditional and social.

He has merely been dismissed from his job, so he claims, on the grounds that CBC would find his personal life being made public as “unbecoming” to a prominent host. Indeed, the only legal action that has been touted at this point is Ghomeshi planning to sue his employer for sacking him.

If the case never goes to court, the public may never know the truth – but his career is likely to be over either way. Of course, if the allegations are true, he deserves all he gets.

Social media is a dangerous thing. It is quick to support – and equally quick to retract that support. By posting that starkly confessional post last weekend, he was clearly hoping it would all go away. But, of course, it wouldn’t. We’re in an era when the judge is not just the bloke in a wig sitting in the High Court: it is everyman sitting in front of his computer screen.

Frightening times.


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