There are many examples out there in which the media takes a story, frames it one way or the other and presents it to the public. Some of the most popular and recent ones might be Megan Stammers and Jeremy Foster, the teacher and the under aged student that ran together for a holiday in France; another might be Jimmy Savile’s allegations that he had been abusing children during his life, and many more.
Jimmy Savile was a UK national pride whom is now accused of heavy sexual perversion. Worse than that? He can’t even defend himself anymore and everybody forgot to mention all the amazing stuff he has done in his life. This is how a reputation gets distroyed forever and the media is the presenter of the story. There are many sides to an issue. Sometimes the media’s framing over a story completely destroyed innocent people’s or organisations’ reputations, some other times the media was the one that helped solving a case. Problem is: when is it ethical and when is it not?
Perhaps, in a black and white world, the answer will be that it is not ethical to present a story to the public that has not been officially proven. But the best way to go around it would probably be to present an issue AS IT IS to the public, without any human bias, to present fairly and balanced all sides of the story and to wait for the official conclusion. But even like this there is a high chance that somebody’s reputation can be heavily stained, journalists are people and readers have the freedom of having their own opinion at the end of the day.
The use of media in such cases is sometimes useful, like finding some ones whereabouts, helping catch a fugitive of the law and so on. Completely forbidding the appearance of cases like this in the media, not only that does not apply with the liberty of speech but also it cuts from the power of it in situations in which it can be actually useful.
Therefore the best conclusion here would be to present a story as it is, without framing it or showing only one side of the issue. If there are allegations that have not been proven yet, they should be called so and the facts presented in the media should be presented without human bias and without any personal conclusions or opinions attached to it.
When it comes to PR though, reputation management would not be as exciting if the media would not stain reputations at the smallest gossip. On the other hand the media is not only a channel through which reputations can be destroyed but it goes both ways – it is also the one that can restore it. And in the end…we now have social media…any laws against the freedom of speech on ANY issue would be USELESS!