Last night Q&A, the ABC panel show on politics and society broadcast live from Dandenong, a culturally diverse area of Victoria, less than an hour from Melbourne. The city has a population of which approximately 56% were born overseas, from over 151 different nations. Further, just over half of the population that were born overseas hail from a non-English speaking background. So it was only natural that there would be some questions, aside from the usual talk of the major issues of the day about issues of ethnicity and culture and the intersection with basic societal functions and phenomena.
How we deal with crime and the reporting of these unfortunate events is a very important issue and the Q&A discussion last night turned to the reporting of crime using the physically identifiable factors of those suspected of , or convicted of offences which we see daily in our news broadcasts.
The questioner last night asked:
I am an Australian citizen. Why is it that if I commit a crime the media identifies me by my parents’ country but as an Australian citizen?
Questions like this are often debated fiercely and are a polarising affair when talking about crime and those responsible for it and how it should be portrayed in the media.
Firstly, it is essential that there are different standards in the reporting of alleged criminal acts and of the criminals that are being and have been prosecuted by the courts.
Both of these parts of the process should not be held to the same standard, as being tough on the investigation and identification of criminals can impede the eventual prosecution of the alleged felon.
It seems reasonable and self-evident that the strict reporting of the appearance of a criminal suspect is an important way to aid the investigative process in the search for those criminals which cannot be captured while committing, or just after undertaking a criminal act.
To that end, journalists should be entirely free to report to the fullest extent possible, the colour of skin of a suspect in a crime and as much other identifiable characteristics as possible. This should include identifying possible ethnic backgrounds, providing that the information is based on realistic information and is applied to people of all skin colour, regardless of background.
Just as height, weight, eye colour, scars or other markings and clothing worn by alleged offenders matters in the investigation process, so too does the colour of skin and to not be able to freely report that would be a shame and hindrance to the resolution of criminal matters.
Where the ground is difficult in the reporting of crime is determining exactly what crimes by what individuals to focus on reporting. Balancing that depending on ethnicity and being proportional is difficult. Perhaps the best system for all media outlets to base criminal reporting on would be the seriousness and brutality of the crime as opposed to any other factor, while still again, in the investigative stages, being fully free to disclose identifiable characteristics.
Where the line should be drawn and where care should be taken to tread carefully is in mentioning the ethnic background or physical appearance of those who have been investigated and charged with criminal acts.
In this case, the skin colour or country of origin of the ancestors of an alleged criminal facing the justice process should not matter and does not need to be reported. Crime is crime and it transcends ethnicity and should not be used to unfairly single out any particular group.
So the reporting of crime is a difficult balancing act for the media, with the right to information in the investigation of crime being paramount. The identification of people charged with an offence should be where the background of the offender ceases to matter. It must be acknowledged that crime reporting is a difficult balancing act with limited time for news content to be determined based on the right of the public to know.
The day is Thursday, the last day in a sitting week in the Parliament of Australia in Canberra and that usually means fireworks as parliamentary politics winds down for the week. Yesterday it was the unexpected topic of customs and their role in gun control which stole the show in Question Time in the House of Representatives. Today the proverbial battle lines should be much clearer with the Fair Work Australia investigation into the Victorian branch which has just concluded the sure focus of Coalition questions to the Gillard Government.
The Fair Work Australia Investigation into Victoria Number 1 branch has reached a conclusion and was reported yesterday and will see 3 former officials from the union seeking possibly pecuniary penalties as a result of their alleged actions in the Federal Court of Australia. The officials will not be subjected to criminal prosecution.
At the same time the Commonwealth Ombudsman has commenced an investigation into the actions of the General Manager of Fair Work Australia, Bernadette O’Neill over the 3 years of the investigation into the Health Services Union. The complaint seeks an imminent end to the investigations into the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson, in addition to answers over the snail-like pace of the overall investigation into the union
The Coalition, likely led in the questioning by Tony Abbott and key front-bencher’s like Christopher Pyne, Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop will continue to pursue the government over the issue focusing on the length of the investigation and seeking help to draw the remaining examinations to a close in the very near future.
The Opposition may follow up with a few questions following on from yesterday where it launched an attack on the Government over the importation of firearms and government cuts to customs.
The ALP Government will certainly continue to highlight the spending that is associated with its mining tax, the MRRT in particular, but also the carbon tax. The government is also likely to draw attention to the Coalition and the Greens blocking the big business tax cuts, albeit for different reasons with the Greens blocking it because big business in their mind shouldn’t receive cuts and the Coalition, because the cuts are associated with the mining tax which they say they will rescind.
There is a high likelihood that the tensions which have been exhibited all week, including yesterday when more than a handful of Coalition MPs were booted for an hour under Standing Order 94a will continue today. This would likely see a comparative number of MPs booted, again heavily expected to be from the Coalition side.
A motion to suspend Standing Orders is also a high possibility, likely in relation to the Fair Work Australia investigation into the HSU and Craig Thomson, a focus of Opposition questions for some time now.
All will be revealed and debated with nothing held back from 2pm AEDT