opinion

"When it comes to Amber Sherlock, the punishment does not fit the crime."

Last night, Channel Nine newsreader Amber Sherlock went to ground and locked up her social media channels amid fierce, unrelenting backlash.

She, as I’m sure you’re aware, asked her colleague, Julie Snook, to put on a jacket before going on live television. She had a hint of sass, a tone of irritation and the exchange itself secreted a kind of passive-aggression that suggests the conversation had a bigger backstory than the two-minute video gave us access to.

Sherlock’s decision to shut down her Twitter and Instagram came after the vitriol levelled against her grew — as it too often does — into a far greater force than the “crime” itself.

Since the video went viral, Sherlock has been labelled a “bitch”, a “brat”, “crazy” and a “witch”.

And so we find ourselves in a familiar space. A high-profile person says something thoughtless or rude. The public eventually gets wind of said comment. And like a modern-day stampede that has unstoppable momentum and the guise of anonymity, the perpetrator of that comment quickly becomes the victim. They get caught, trampled by the force of the online world, the face of public shame.

And this is where we go wrong, every single time.

There’s a saying that goes, ‘yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper’. I have no doubt it’s a saying Sherlock is reminding herself about a lot today. The slow death of newspapers aside, the idea still has merit. Our news cycle moves fast. Sherlock is the most talked about person in Australia right now, but she won’t be next week. Someone else will have filled that role.

The difference between our news cycle now and our news cycle in the days when yesterday’s news really was tomorrow’s fish-and-chip paper is simple. It’s the damage we do while that news is, well, news.

Like a tornado, we destroy anyone on our radar. Social media users have picked her up, tossed her around and will drop her back on the ground before finding someone else to crucify, rarely turning back to consider the damage that lies in their wake.

This week, it’s Sherlock. Yes, she was brusque. She was dismissive. But even David Koch, star of rival network Channel 7, sympathises.

Amber Sherlock (middle) with Julie Snook and Sandy Rae.
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“It is funny, we laugh at it, but I would hate for anyone to publicly show what we get up to during commercial [breaks],” he said on Sunrise on Friday.

The reality is, Sherlock was just doing her job. She knows how important the aesthetics of television are and how what might seem an insignificant white top is a much greater deal on live TV.

It's the reason an entire wardrobe department exists in the first place. Because TV stations must place a huge amount of thought into how things appear on your screen. Sure, the message was terribly communicated, but the sentiment was much less about Sherlock's personal preference and much more about how the powers above would react to the wardrobe clash.

Simply, the level of abuse directed at Amber Sherlock does not match her actions. The punishment does not fit the crime.

And this comes at a time when former Essendon footballer James Hird has been admitted to hospital after an overdose following a tumultuous few years. The media, many have said, have a lot to answer for. And they're right. The consistent reporting and stalking of him no doubt played a role in his current struggle.

But the side that no one has mentioned?

Today, the 'media' includes you.

Every comment you leave on Facebook, every tweet you send from your account, every jab you leave on an Instagram photo. You're the media, too.

It's amazing how willing we were, just a week ago, to point fingers and lament the current state of the media when the tragic news of Hird's hospitalisation broke.

And it's amazing how quick we are, this week, to jump back online, our propensity to abuse and criticise in tow, and be aggressive enough to force another to shut down their social media channels.

It's amazing how quickly we're willing to put our faith in soundbites without context. It's amazing how stubbornly we refuse to learn. It's amazing how ready we are to ride the wave of public sentiment and outrage.

Sherlock might be as exactly the person the short video clip would suggest she is.

But it's far more likely that she is not.

She has a lot more to her than we will ever know -- and certainly more than you could ever glean from a two-minute video. And in a digital realm where so much damage can be done via an online witch hunt, we don't seem willing to learn.

And we rarely seem generous enough to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.

We need to find room for sympathy, and today, Sherlock needs that.