Public panel discussion – Wednesday 29 April 2015 – Facilitated by JustSpeak
Speakers – Dr Gavin Ellis (a former editor-in-chief of the New Zealand Herald), Rob Kidd (current court reporter for the New Zealand Herald), Dr John Buttle (criminologist and senior lecturer at AUT) and Jenny Rankine (Kupu Taea research group on Maori reporting in the media).
Reporting should be objective, but events are interpreted through the lens of people and institutions. There is a filter that occurs by police and media that applies a lens to what is reported on and how the story is told.
There is an overrepresentation of Maori and Pasifika in crime reporting. Domestic abuse occurs in society at about an even rate of 1:1 Maori to Pakeha yet it is reported in media at a rate of 2:1.
Maori report feeling under extra surveillance than the rest of society. Maori woman have their children watched at school for any signs of abuse, and people assumed to be Maori and Pasifika are followed around shops which sows stigma, fear and a distrust of Maori and Pasifika ethnicities.
Legislation has the power to shape how the public perceives crime in society. Two events of home invasion (breaking into someone’s home while they are home, most often involving assault) which occurred in the 2000s about two weeks apart were directly influential on the passing of home invasion legislation. Although home invasion is relatively rare to burglary (breaking into a home when no-one is home), the resulting fear that was sparked in society enabled this legislation to be passed. This exemplifies that the crime that we fear and want to protect against is disproportionate to which crimes are actually most likely to occur. It could be argued that the media reporting on these high profile and more violent crimes has a prominent effect on the public perception and the passing of crime legislation.
Another piece of legislation that has on public perception is the three strikes law. So named as it affords offenders and repeat offenders different length of sentences depending on which ‘strike’ they have incurred. First strike allows for parole and early release, second strike no parole or early release, and the third strike applies the maximum sentence a crime carries to the offender. The three strikes law is counterintuitive to stopping crime and evidence from overseas suggests clearly that it hasn’t worked in reducing serious crime. Three strikes law shows a complete lack of awareness for human rights and encourages a corrections system that punishes rather than prevents and rehabilitates. “New Zealand three strikes law was managed by an extremely good PR campaign.”
Crime reporting vs. Court reporting. Crime reporting is a cautious process as there is a need to ensure that the right to a fair trial is protected so a reporter is mindful of what can be reported on. Court reporting ideally involves the dictating of facts and court proceedings so as to enable a transparent justice system and to be the eyes and the ears of the general public of society. No court reporter has ever influenced a trial in such a manner that it undermines court processes but reporters and particularly camera crews have been in trouble for examining particular aspects of a person’s appearance e.g. closing in on a tattoo of the word “evil”, suggesting the intention of creating a public bias.
Due to the objective nature of court reporting, it doesn’t lend itself to the analysis of trends and wider social issues involved with crime. However, once court is finished there should be a media obligation to look at the wider issues and the social contexts of crime.
Democratically significant journalism. The media needs to provide information to the public so that they can function as citizens. The right for media agencies to publish requires that they meet these democratically responsible needs. However, this responsibility is not always met by the media and this concept is becoming less relevant due to the commercialisation of news media.
Example of this significant responsibility of news media pertains to the human rights of our citizens. In 2010 the voting rights of prisoners was taken away, there was little coverage of this law change in media which has led to an uninformed public on the rights and liberties of prisoners. Raises the question of do we lose the status of being a citizen when we enter the justice system?