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Even if he’s not guilty this is a huge ethical fail

Let’s say there’s a well-known British business mogul. Now let’s say a set of allegations relating to sexual harassment in the workplace emerge, apparently committed by someone in a position of great power and influence.

Now, maybe that story hits a respected national newspaper, but due to a court injunction the publication cannot name the accused. But, finally, allow us to propose that someone in the upper House of Parliament uses their parliamentary privilege to reveal the identity of the purported villain.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Recent headlines have certainly struck a(nother) chord across a country that’s only just got its head around the last two years of #metoo scandals. The movement, which looks to expose the level of patriarchal misogyny in the world, has sent shockwaves through industries ranging from finance and law to art and entertainment. And now high street retail.

What makes the latest controversy so controversial, though, is the way it represents something of a watershed. The defendant incriminated themselves far more than any journalist ever could the moment they looked to the courts to avoid being named and shamed.

Those with nothing to hide rarely try and hide much, as they say. Yet even those steps couldn’t protect them, and the expose sends a stark warning out about attempting to use similar protective measures.

Of course it’s too early to jump to conclusions, yet. You could argue that gaining an injunction was merely a means of ensuring innocence could eventually be proven without dragging a ‘good’ name through the muck, mire and media circus first. Given how the accused was IDd, though, I’m not convinced on that theory.

Adding further stress points to the chance of a full recovery, the relationship between defendant and the press in general has been poor, at best. Within the industry rumours and anecdotes abound regarding direct threats made to reporters guilty of doing their job by asking the wrong questions long before any of this latest issue emerged. Talk about setting things up for a ravenous field day.

Even those business leaders without behavioural skeletons tucked away in the closet should heed the lesson here. It’s something I’ve spoken about several times, and yet still we see stories like this making headlines.

The truth will always out in the information age. Sins of the past are no longer confined to the archives. They way you act today can and will define you for each and every day to come, whether that’s in terms of environmental record, tackling workplace bullying or making inappropriate advances to vulnerable members of staff. Taking steps to right any and all wrongs now is essential, because— thankfully— the safety net provided by gag notices has finally been torn apart. A precedent has been set.

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