Jackson verdict: US news channel ratings rocket 5-fold

MUMBAI: Monday's total legal victory for Michael Jackson on charges of child molestation, conspiracy and other counts was a verdict that brought a huge cheer for not just the erstwhile "king of Pop" and his millions of diehard fans worldwide. Viewers across the globe were glued to their TV sets catching the latest on the story, skyrocketing the ratings for news channels worldwide.

In the US for example, on the night of 13 June, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC collectively had about 10 million viewers at a time when they would have normally had fewer than two million. On the other side of the Atlantic in the UK, nearly 8 million TV viewers hooked on to the BBC's main evening news bulletin to watch the verdict of not guilty on all counts being read out.

The verdict came just in time for the evening news in the US. Helicopters beamed live video to the world as they tailed Jackson's caravan of SUVs between his Neverland Ranch and the courthouse.

However, viewership of the overall trial in the US was affected because Judge Rodney S Melville denied media organisations the oportunity to televise all or parts of Jackson's trial. Television stations had argued to no avail that their viewers should have been able to see the controlled seriousness of the courtroom in contrast to the unrestrained hoopla outside.

An AP report quoted Court TV CEO Henry Schleiff saying that televising the proceedings would have provided a public service and drawn more viewers. However, attorney Howard Weitzman, who had earlier represented Jackson in a child molestation claim that was settled, felt the televising of any trial could have had a negative effect on the proceedings.

In another report John Watson, a journalism professor at American University in Washington who is an expert on media coverage of the US court system laments the fact that the American media failed to take advantage of the Jackson situation to educate the public about the justice system. The Jackson case, according to him, should have been used as a litmus test to see how well one of the major institutions of the US government is functioning, or not functioning.

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