The Difficult Art of Crime Reporting

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.

About Tom Bridge

A perennial student of politics, providing commentary for money and for free. Email me at tbridgey@gmail.com or contact me on 0435 035 095 for engagements.

Posted on May 1, 2012, in Federal Politics, Queensland Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: