Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009: Trial by media

You may have noticed there is some sort of murder trial going on in New Zealand at the moment, and by 'may have noticed' I mean 'must have been training in the Ureweras not to have noticed'.
Bain home smothered in blood, court told. Jury shown gruesome video footage of corpses after shooting rampage.
Should you be surprised that a significant amount of blood was present at the scene of a multiple murder, or at the presence of corpses, this would have been news to you. Well done Herald. However, if you are not a jellyfish who managed to fail jellyfish NCEA, then you will be aware of these things. In fact, while you may be interested in the fact that David Bain is being retried - was there a grave miscarriage of justice in the original trial?; was the Attorney-General right to order a retrial? - it's rather more difficult to justify needing to know what happened every day in the courtroom. Presumably, the people who need a hugely thorough knowledge of the case are the men and women of the jury, and the judge. Anyone reading in the paper about it is going to come away with a much shallower knowledge of the case - a knowledge that can, of course, easily be swayed by poor reporting. Sensational headlines, daily coverage regardless of the news value of what has happened, 'Bainwatch' on the website keeping you up to the minute and encouraging the belief that, in a long trial, there is constantly going to be something to excite (which then fuels the need for sensationalism) - I dare say that the Herald has covered most bases here.

Speaking of which, you may also be aware of a trial going on in Austria - that of Joseph Fritzl, the charming individual who kept his daughter in his basement for 24 years and who is being charged with murder, rape and enslavement, in addition to other counts. Yes, of course you are aware of him. Exactly what purpose, apart from voyeurism, does the media coverage of the trial serve? Is this some systematic problem that needs to be rooted out, an expose of a serious underground problem? Probably not. Despite the attempts of the British gutter press to claim that it's all part of some Freudian obsession with Hitler -he was Austrian, remember? OMG! - it's a story about a crazy nutjob who did some pretty despicable acts. Perhaps it's 'natural' to want to hear about something so beyond our frame of reference, but it's not clear that responsible journalism ought to be dedicated to satisfying our primeval urges. Surely that's what Facebook hate groups are for.


  1. Great blog - but I am surprised you decided to give todays absolute stunner a miss..."Advisers: Crime laws will hurt NZ's image"

    Particularly when you consider the previous stories the Herald has gleefully written about crime destroying our overseas reputation. I really like "Safety warning for Asian Tourists" and "Scenery, socialising and Safety" for lightweight fluff.

    You could almost forgive "Tourist Numbers Plummet" for it's struggeling attempt to tie falling tourist numbers in with high crime... read a list of tourist related crimes, followed by a denial by the tourist boards that they had even considered the possibility the two could be connected. The artical almost becomes farcical in the way the Herald tries to persue the argument. I wonder if they ever bother to read past copies of the Herald before they try and juggle up a story. Great fun.

  2. so the new zealand herald - and other newspapers for that matter - should not publish stories if they in some way conflict with previous reporting?

    labour wins election. national wins election.

    nice logic.

  3. Well, good point really. Although I guess I was seeing it in terms of the spin that the Herald chooses to throw at it. Reading the earlier articals it was obvious that the Herald was pushing a barrow (Crime is hurting our tourist image) but the parties wouldnt play ball. So you ended up with a "...(whoever) denies that this is having an effect... type story. I found it interesting that the Herald has pushed the line that our image is being damaged so often, but chose to go the opposite way with this artical.

  4. Back to the original post: Are you seriously suggesting the media should wait respectfully outside the courtroom, tug the forelock when the judge reads the verdict three weeks later, then file 500 words and leave it at that. Personally, I quite like living in a society where the mechanisms of the judiciary and the police force are examined and reported upon.
    And I assure you, there is nothing sensational about court reporting: what's said in court is repeated in the paper. That's how it's done. A journalist who adds anything juicy gets in the poop.