Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Trial by media - when the media get it wrong

Today a woman in the US

Casey Anthony

Was found not guilty of murdering her two-year-old daughter in 2008.

It had been aledged that Casey Anthony had murdered two-year-old Caylee because she got in the way of her lifestyle. However, the jury unanimously found her not guilty of murder, manslaughter, and child abuse, with her only having been found guilty of lying to the police.

Over the past three years this case has received extensive media coverage, with numerous people connected with the case appearing on chat shows to discuss the guilty verdict before it had even gone to trial. The trial itself was televised, and you only need look at the various discussion forums and news sites to see that the public, and the media were in no doubt as to the outcome of this trial.

In short, Casey Anthony was found guilty of murdering her daughter and was going to be executed. The media had spoken, and the public were right behind them.

So you can only imagine their shock, anger, and dismay when the jury, after several hours of deliberation, returned a unanimous not guilty verdict. Casey Anthony, instead of going to the electric chair, will serve no more than four years in prison when she is sentenced on Thursday.

So what now of the media? What of the public who had been convinced that a woman murdered her daughter and was going to die, but instead will walk free in the next few months?

There is anger at the not guilty verdict. The public had decided she was guilty, they had spoken and were awaiting confirmation of their decision, but instead they have been told that Casey Anthony didn't commit the crimes they were convinced she had committed.

So how far should we take media involvement when it comes to reporting on crime?

It is not uncommon for newspapers to publish the names and addresses of suspects after they've been arrested even if they have not been charged.

Currently a case has begun against two newspapers in the UK, after the coverage of the arrest of a Bristol man,

Chris Jefferies

On suspicion of the murder of Jo Yeates in December last year. After his arrest, his name and address were published, with one newspaper even taking statements from people who knew him proclaiming that he always seemed "a bit dodgy." Within days Jefferies had virtually been found guilty of Jo Yeates' murder. After being questioned for three days he was released without charge, and has since been cleared of any involvement in the murder.

But it was too late. The press had done its work, and his character will forever be tarnished with the reputation that he was arrested on suspicion of murder. It doesn't matter that he was never charged, there will always be people who believe he was involved, mud sticks, after all. It is reported that Jefferies has since had to move away from the area.

We do have a public justice system, and I agree that it should be seen to be transparent, with the public being made aware of developments in a case, especially when such a high profile one. But surely a line needs to be drawn between the publication of what could be perceived to be vital information which might lead to more witnesses coming forward and ultimately to justice being served, and sensationalising the reporting of a case in order to encourage the public to become involved and even to imagine they have a hand in the justice process.

One can't help but wonder how impartial any jury could possibly be, when a case is reported in such great detail, some of which is just rumour and hearsay, before the case has even come to trial.

For Casey Anthony the future looks bleak. In the eyes of her haters, she killed a child, The fact she was found not guilty in a court of law is irrelevant - there will be some who feel she deserves justice and who might even seek retribution on behalf of the child they never either knew nor cared about until her name appeared in the headlines.

Perhaps it's time for the media to take a step back from the sensational details and concentrated on the justice they claim to seek on behalf of the innocent victims of crimes.

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