I spotted Horizon about to make a reappearance on BBC2 tonight. A long time ago, Horizon used to be ‘Required Viewing’ – it didn’t matter what it was about because I knew it would something related to science and physics (maybe even quantum physics if we were lucky), and that it would be cutting-edge, and maybe even controversial. Sadly, this is no longer the case, and as the shift of ‘Interesting Technology’ moved into the biological fields, Horizon began to look more like a weekly edition of Medical Express, with endless scenes of ‘blood & guts’, or tours around plants full of fermentation vessels, busily creating the next wonder drug, fertilizer, or genetically modified curiosity.
Oh for a decent electron cloud…
Those days are doubtless gone, as science really does seem to have become a dirty word (whither goes Channel 4’s Equinox too?). In its place, Horizon has become a dumping ground for anything that the media can vaguely call scientific, dumb down, and package in a way that is simple enough for it to attract those all important ‘Viewer Numbers’ and keep those all important Rating pumped up by attracting the masses, and dropping the niches.
That probably sounds as if I’m knocking the poor old Horizon team, actually I’m not. In fact, I’m all the more impressed that they are still able to produce material that brings me back to them, I just wish they were free to do it more often.
Tonight’s offering is particularly interesting: How to Kill a Human Being, where former Conservative MP Michael Portillo pushes his body to the brink of death in an investigation into the science of execution. An interesting subject, and an equally interesting presenter, not exactly the first choice, but then again, perhaps with his former position he is in fact the very sort of person that should be investigating this subject seriously. Perhaps the question should really by why a former MP is out there carrying out this investigation, and why a current, serving MP is not doing the job?
I used to live in a nice, simple, black & white world. I never questioned the Death Penalty – if you committed a crime that merited this sanction, you had earned it, and therefore you were due to rightly receive it.
Then I got older, and discovered the REAL world.
Since then I’ve held dead and dying people, had relatives killed by others in ‘accidents’, even have friends who have had family members murdered within walking distance, and finally, served in court on Jury Service.
All of these have combined to educate me further, and understand that the Death Penalty has no place anywhere. It’s absence marks a turning point in any society -it’s gone from the UK, the USA is in constant turmoil with it (the condemned can spend decades on Death Row while legal arguments take place), and one only has to look east to see the horrendous injustices that take place there as legalised State sponsored murder of hundreds continue each year, and public beheading draw crowds of onlookers.
In our society, we say killing someone is wrong, but still have those who vociferously call for this sentence to be carried out. Nowadays, this is accompanied by the media hounding relatives of murder victims, and generally having them call for The Death Penalty to be restored, usually claiming it is needed as a deterrent. Do they really believe that? I think not, and this is nothing more than savage revenge, in the name of ‘Justice’. It’s probably one of the saddest, and most shameful things that the media can show, people baying for blood – while at the same time condemning someone who did the same.
However, while the revenge aspect is understandable, it also leads to the main reason for which the Death Penalty is not an acceptable sanction. We have a legal system, like it or not, and one of the duties of that system is to remove the relatives from the equation, remove the Revenge Card from the pack, and give the accused a fair trial – and that’s where an unwanted problem makes its appearance. Particularly in high profile public cases, there is a need to be seen to bring someone to account, and I think that there is a mistaken belief amongst the Armchair Jurors, who have never served in real court, that the question of Guilt or Innocence (or Not Proven if you’re unlucky enough to land yourself in a Scottish court) is a clean-cut, black & white issue. Viewed from outside the court this is so, the accused is tried, and a decision arrived at – job done!
Not so if you are inside the court, and taking part in the process. In this case, you will be presented with two sides of the story, both plausible, and both backed up by evidence and/or other presentations. Far from being simple, you and your fellow jurors have to weigh all this up, and determine which, ON BALANCE, is more likely to be true. You will certainly have more evidence than the public at large, but at the end of the case. it’s still a judgement call. While the media can largely say what it likes, and the crowds at the door that ‘KNOW‘ the accused is guilt, and just want 5 minutes alone with them to teat them apart, you are the one with the short straw, and left to make that ‘balanced decision’.
This makes a difference, and taking a look at the current reports in the news will show that these ‘balanced decisions’ are being proven wrong today – when the victims can be released from prison – and have been proven wrong in the past, when the victims can only have an apology issued, unheard as they dangled from the end of a Hangman’s rope many years ago.
Stop and think for a moment – how would you feel after months/years in jail, on trial, found guilty and finally sentenced to death on the basis of ‘overwhelming evidence’ if you were actually innocent. It must be bad enough to die, knowing you are about to die (eg in and accident) but how would you feel as the noose was placed around your neck, the needles in your arm, being strapped in gas chamber or electric chair, or being held down for beheading, if you were innocent, and wrongly accused and convicted. It’s happened, it’s still happening, and all too often.
Granted, there are some cases where there is not doubt who the guilty party is, or are there? We also have too many high profile cases where there was seen to be a need to bring someone, anyone, to justice. Suspects were rounded up, evidence presented, and sentences delivered to everyone’s satisfaction. Then, decades later, we discover that the those convicted were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, the evidence evaporates, and if they’re lucky, the guilty are pardoned and released – if they’re still alive that is.
I might not have any particular liking for Mr Portillo, as a person or a politician, but that doesn’t mean I can’t admire him for taking part in this programme, and even more so for taking part in the demonstrations and tests.
We call ourselves civilised, but are still prepared to despatch people in pain and suffering, in the name of justice – are we really, in fact, any better than the murderers we condemn?