Jackson verdict should be respected

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2005, 12:00am

The celebrity trial that has held the world's attention for the past three months has ended with Michael Jackson walking free from child-abuse charges.

American justice has been served, the media circus is over and the fans who kept a daily vigil outside the court have moved on. While the accuser and his mother will most likely disappear from view and return only if Jackson finds himself at the centre of fresh controversy, the faded pop music superstar will not find it easy to stay out of the spotlight.

He does, after all, have a history of unusual behaviour, and now that he is experiencing financial difficulties, the attention will be as fierce as it was during the trial. Already the talk has shifted from courtroom machinations to how Jackson will be able to pay his debts and support his lavish lifestyle. Perhaps he will have to sell his Neverland ranch with its zoo and amusement park, or his share of a music publishing rights catalogue that includes songs by the Beatles. He might even have to return to the concert circuit.

Jackson has lived all but a handful of his 47 years in the public spotlight. The pinnacle of his success was 20 years ago, with his album Thriller selling more copies than any other record ever. But his star has fallen and he is unlikely to be able to return to those heady days of success.

Nonetheless, he has remained a media fixture through persistent child sex-abuse allegations, brief marriages, odd behaviour and expensive tastes. The latest allegations made him the centre of attention again. The legal arguments and evidence of witnesses on the 10 charges he faced were internationally aired. Such criminal claims - child molestation, attempted abduction and giving alcohol to a minor - rarely get such wide exposure. Although serious accusations, society finds such issues difficult to discuss openly. The Jackson trial was an opportunity to bring them to the fore for public debate.

That happened with a similarly 'taboo' subject last month, when Australian singer Kylie Minogue announced she had breast cancer and would undergo surgery. More than any public health campaign, her situation prompted women to have tests they would most likely not have had until too late.

Sadly, Jackson's trial did none of that. The problem of child abuse generally was overshadowed by his celebrity status and all that went with it.

Whatever the opinions of his critics, he has been cleared by a jury and is therefore innocent in the eyes of the law.

The jurors may well have had suspicions. But they seem to have stuck to the job of weighing up the evidence and seeing if it was strong enough to support the allegations. They decided it was not.

Jackson should learn from this experience. He put himself in a position that made him very vulnerable to such allegations. But now that the verdicts have been returned, they should be respected.