Chloe Pumares investigates the role of the media in reporting on domestic abuse cases, using Johnny Depp’s lost libel case as a case study.
Johnny Depp recently lost his libel case against The Sun for calling him a “wife-beater“. This has further split the public, into Team Johnny and Team Amber, an incredibly dangerous division as it threatens to take focus away from the actual allegation, and the fact that anyone, even a Hollywood star, could be an abuser.
The allegations first came out in 2016 when Heard filed for divorce and obtained a temporary restraining order against the Oscar-nominated actor, claiming that Depp had physically abused her, usually when he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Heard alleged that the first incident had occurred in 2013 when Depp lashed out after she made a comment on his tattoo. In 2018 Heard wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post speaking about the abuse she failed and how women are treated in domestic abuse cases. Then in 2019, Depp sued Heard for $50 million for defamation over the article claiming that Heard is not a victim but a perpetrator, a suit that is still currently ongoing. This year phone recordings were obtained by the Daily Mail and released in which Heard admitted to hitting Depp, and then in July the three week libel trial began as Depp fought the News Group Newspapers who publish The Sun for calling him a “wife-beater” in a 2018 article.
During this libel case the judge, Mr Justice Nicol, confirmed in a London High court ruling that Depp had attacked Amber Heard 12 times, beginning with the 2013 incident and ending in May 2016 when Depp allegedly threw a phone at Heard, injuring her eye, then proceeded to pull her hair and strike her. The Judge ultimately ruled that The Sun were accurate in their article. This ruling has already appeared to have an impact on Depp’s reputation as he was recently asked to resign from the Fantastic Beasts franchise, which has sparked fans to petition for Johnny Depp to be reinstated. There have also been campaigns to remove Amber Heard from the sequel to Aquaman.
In terms of the media reporting on high profile domestic abuse cases it must be handled carefully. The reporting of these cases in tabloid can often be contradictory and make it difficult for the reader to truly understand what has happened. Very often in the media there is also victim blaming. Yet reporting on these cases is important for the media as it helps to destigmatise domestic abuse, if celebrities can come forward about abuse they suffered then it may help encourage other people to come forward.
Heard often faced headlines that insinuated she lied or was inconsistent, this not only damages her reputation and discredits her experience, but, whether truthful or not, may effect how often other women come forward. When a celebrity’s story is called into question it can lead to those who come forward to not being believed, making an already difficult situation even harder. While it is as important as ever that domestic abuse cases are mentioned in the news so people can be reminded of how abuse manifests and how to get help, we must be careful with high profile cases not to allow the sensationalist headlines to detract from the point, ensuring that we allow these cases to play out in the court as they should.