Soft on crime, not doing the time: the media, law and order and the criminal justice system

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Mackenzie, G 2007, 'Soft on crime, not doing the time: the media, law and order and the criminal justice system', paper presented to The International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law 20th anniversary conference: twenty years of criminal justice reform: past achievements and future challenges, Vancouver, Canada, 22-26 June.


I begin this paper with a very Australian media parable about a man called I will call X. This story illustrates my theme of how the media can manipulate, or at least attempt to manipulate public opinion on crime and criminal justice matters. 1 I then move to a discussion on the courts and the media, and finally some suggestions on what can be done to alleviate the current problems. The tale begins simply enough, with a report in our local Queensland (Australia) newspaper, the Murdoch owned Courier Mail, on May 28 2007 that a local radio announcer X had been violently attacked "bashed" overnight in Brisbane's CBD. His injuries were said to be a broken nose, cracked cheekbone, and fractured skull. Although released from intensive care, he remained in hospital. A message from his radio station asked for privacy during his recuperation. All that was known at that stage therefore was that he had sustained head injuries in some sort of altercation. The next day, May 29, the Courier Mail reported an interview with X where he said "I have no recollection of it, and I just want to know why?". The report stated that he had been found in the street by a passerby and taken to hospital where he was heavily sedated. He is also reported to have said "I love this city and I've always felt safe, yet from what I have heard today about the number of incidents, it's not good. From now on, when I go out I will think more about where and what I am doing and have my wits about me". And further in the story: "I don't want to talk about what sort of people they are, but I just want to know what was going through their head. I am just lucky it's not more serious. I was feeling sorry for myself early this morning and then you realise you didn't lose your life and how lucky you are". Brisbane's Lord Mayor was reported as saying that the attack on X was a "horrifying situation", but that safety in the city had improved in recent years. It is relevant at this point to note that the Courier Mail had been leading a campaign to have the defence of accident reviewed, after several high profile cases where accused persons have been acquitted by a jury of homicide charges after killing people in street attacks, and relying on the accident defence in that the deaths were not foreseeable, given the nature of the attack.