Friday, March 27, 2009

Ask the victims

Gee, do you think that the Herald thinks (or, I suppose, thinks that potential readers think) that sentences for violent offenders are too light? I say this as the Herald reports that Jahche Broughton, a fifteen-year-old boy (fourteen at the time of the attack), was sentenced to life in prison with a 12.5 year non-parole period for the murder of Scottish tourist Karen Aim. This screwed-up young man will be in prison for the rest of his youth, until he is about 27 if he qualifies for parole - it is a life sentence. Now, this is neither the time nor the place to get into some sort of debate about the desirability of long prison terms or the justice system in general. I am more interested in the Herald's practice of 'asking the victim' what they think of sentences. I am yet to see the reply, "I think it's just about right."

"Woman beaten by boy who murdered tourist says life sentence is 'too light' for what he did to them" says the sub-headline on page A3. In fact, it is the first life sentence ever handed down to someone so young, so I'm not sure what Zara Schofield has in mind. Life without parole? The guillotine? Of course, it's not fair to criticise her for this - she was viciously assaulted by Broughton, and then had to go through the guilt of seeing a friend murdered by the same boy. But this is precisely the reason why civilised societies are based on laws, not emotions - no victim can be expected to be rational and disinterested in their own case. Only yesterday, the Herald printed this article about the murder of methamphetamine dealer Jason Boon. One person was charged with murder and awaits sentencing, while two accomplices were sentenced to nine (about two Bruce Emerys) and eight years for manslaughter. You may notice that the headline, rather than reporting the verdicts or sentences alone, says, "Fatal robbery jail terms 'far too light'". According to whom? According to the mother of the partner of the deceased.

Of course, people should be allowed their opinions if it helps them deal with their grief - although I am suspicious of whether it does or not. This doesn't mean that the Herald should make this the main thrust of their reporting. If a criminologist, a senior policeman or an experienced judge thinks sentences are too light (or heavy), that may be news. If the bereaved do, it's not. As the saying goes, if the Pope says he believes in God, he's just doing his job. If the Pope says he's not sure any more, then I'm interested. For now, I would be much happier if the Herald left victims alone and stopped exploiting their grief to sell newspapers.


  1. Irrelevant or made-up opinions parading as news... This has made me rage this week as well.

    Perhaps this is not the right forum, but I thought this would be worth sharing:

    Times headline reads 'Brown's dreams of unity crushed as EU president speaks out against US fiscal policy' (Or words to that effect). This might be news if the EU president was in fact someone the Times considers worth listening too. But then the thrust of the headline should surely be about the comment, with an analysis on its effects on Gordon Brown's diplomatic efforts being secondary. But unfortunately the Czechs' turn at leading the EU has been little more than good reason to abandon the EU presidency rotation policy. And the Times never leads with Europe even when there are things worth reporting about. Also, in other news the Czech leader has denied he ever said it (i.e. making the unity crushing slightly less forceful).

    So this was just another 'scoop' by a desperate British newspaper to increase readership.

    Oh, and in more other news (contemperaneously buried deep on the times website, well out of view) the same Czech Prime Minister has resigned due to a no confidence vote in the Czech Parliament.

    quality reporting with a capital q. Yes the NZ Herald isn't great, but the British media really does have its flaws.

  2. This might not be the right forum either but I think that Editingtheherald should be an evening paper, people buy their herald in the morning. Rage for 8 or so hours and then pay to read about what they've been raging about on the way home, kind of a tabloid for thinking people.

  3. Ron. I'd subscribe.

  4. The father said "Justice has been done" on the same page. What's your beef man?

  5. I am yet to see the reply, "I think it's just about right."

    It was on the same page.

  6. Ok smartasses. There was *one line* that said 'justice had been done', according to the father. However, the short piece that followed never mnetioned that again.

    Meanwhile, the main piece, just like the main piece on the boon killing, was headed by and talked about at length how justice *hadn't* been done. Sorry for slightly exaggerating in a news-rage blog.

    What's my beef... Jesus.

  7. I don't think anon is a smart ass. Set yourself up as a judge and you will also be judged.

    I believe all the TV news channels had interviews with the 'other' victim, and she said the same thing to them as well. Newsworthy not because the news had an underlying agenda, as you suggest, but because they were HER comments and she was a key figure in the overall story.

  8. I think the point being made in the blog though is that the victim seems to be the main source the herald uses when getting opinions on sentences. The Herald runs crime stories regularly and sentencing detais very often get column inches, if not headlines, devoted to them.

    Surely a balanced article would seek more than one opinion.

    Without being too insensitive to the subject matter, it is a bit like asking property developers their opinion on Auckland's Metropolitan Urban Limit, without also asking a town planner or some other informed person.

  9. I have to disagree with you on this point James. I believe that the opinions are relevant, and should be given some degree of prominence in media coverage.

    It's possible to argue, as you do, that (apologies for paraphrasing) victims are inherently biased and therefore their views are not surprisngly and therefore less newsworthy.

    But the justice system as a whole places substantial emphasis on the views of the victim, through Victim Impact Statements, restorative justice, etc. Surely, coverage of the justice system should then reflect that emphasis.