Media Sensationalism: Making a “Martyr” Out of Meagher


A questionable culture is emerging in Australian media and is threatening the integrity of journalism as well as exposing inherent issues surrounding media regulation. Sensationalism in the media is hardly a new phenomenon – just look at the effects the media has had on issues like the war in Afghanistan or the outbreak of Avian Influenza – however the current state of crime reporting, particularly in print media, is presenting significant issues for both the credibility of news items and for consumers of this news.

The recent, and tragic, death of Jill Meagher is testament to the reprehensible style of reporting that is emerging in Australia. I am a huge advocate of the reporting of crime in print media – possibly due to the fact that I’m currently studying law alongside my BCM degree, though more likely down to the fact that I have a penchant for reading about all things crime related – although there is a certain line that must be drawn when writing about criminal acts (particularly ones that are still being investigated). The media has released footage of Meagher’s last minutes, written detailed descriptions of the attack, and even revealed information about various aspects of her social and personal life all in order to generate a broader interest in her death. Again I am all for freedom of speech and press but I question why knowing about the gruesome details of her death could be considered beneficial to anyone other than the profiteering journalists.

Underlying this rant about media sensationalism is my want for greater controls on the reporting of crimes in the media. It is clearly in the public interest for mechanisms to be put in place that prevent the reporting of unnecessary or macabre aspects of criminal acts. Why? For a multitude of reasons too extensive to post here, but I’ll divulge the main reasons as follows:

  1. Overexposure to morbid details – shock tactics may sell more papers or magazines, however this doesn’t mean they should be employed. We are creating a generation of people that are becoming indifferent about the reporting of heinous crimes, breezing over them as though they were the social pages.
  2. Trial by media issues – the Victorian police were critical (and rightly so) of the coverage afforded to Meagher’s death since it has proved to be a hinderance to the investigation and prosecution processes. Consider the effects of a trial by media in the Skaf case (again, the inner law student coming out in me but a good example nonetheless).
  3. What about the family? – this is perhaps the most contentious issue of all. Those close to Meagher have been unable to privately grieve over their loss; it is making front page news continuously. What makes me more concerned is that people that are in no way connected to Jill are holding protests, walks and vigils over her death – all due to the bombardment of information about her death by the media.
The effects of sensationalism corrode the awareness level, contemplate the critical issues and present it in a immature and unrealistic way. I think it’s high time that media should end this disillusionment in reporting and start reporting the facts. The rest should be left to the public to interpret and understand the meaning rather than stuffing unnecessary details in their minds.

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