Yesterday, the police eviscerated the media for putting forward a suspect in the Toyah Cordingley case. In response, the media are questioning the police for dragging their feet. Who is in the right?
The media are under fire for reporting details in the Toyah Cordingley murder case, which investigators say could potentially hinder the case.
The accusation comes after the Sunday Mail and Seven News reported that a male nurse who had been identified as a key suspect in Ms Cordingley’s murder had fled to India shortly after the 24-year-old Queensland woman’s death in October.
The Queensland Police Service released a brief statement on Sunday saying the report could jeopardise their current investigation.
“Speculation surrounding elements of the investigation are not helpful, and have the potential to jeopardise that,” the statement said.
This is certainly not the first time that the media have been accused of overstepping the mark.
Problems most often arise when the suspect is caught and it’s time to go to trial. In Australia, we have a constitutional right to an assumption of innocence. The reality of this is very different when the jury have been bombarded with months of media coverage in the lead up to the trial.
We all know that the media frame the news to suit their own agenda. They want us to fear the suspect, because fear sells. Stories are filled with dark and emotive language, suspects are described as sociopaths, and there’s a general sense of doom and gloom in every story. They need us to assume the suspect is guilty so that we will follow the story, desperate to see the good guys win.
In one study in the United States, 75% of news coverage of serious crime over a 26-year period was negatively bent against the accused, using sensationalised descriptions of the crime, defamatory language and including information that would usually be withheld from evidence in an actual trial. In fact, only 19% of the stories in the study even attempted to provide an unbiased account. Is it any wonder that trial by media is seen to undermine the right to a fair a trial?
Also on The Big Smoke
- Should publishing “fake news” be a crime?
- The misguided aim of the media after the Margaret River shooting
In another recent case, Greg Walsh, lawyer for accused killer Chris Dawson, spoke outside the Central Local Court last week, concerned about the degree of media attention Dawson’s extradition had sparked.
“It is of concern that some of that reporting is pervasive, and it’s coming from an ideological perspective that he must be guilty,” said Walsh.
Likewise, in the trial of Daniel Morcombe’s murderer, Brett Peter Cowan, the defence applied multiple times for a mistrial, citing media coverage of the case on the grounds that Cowan could not receive a fair trial with such intense media scrutiny.
And of course, who can forget the Jill Meagher case. Killer Adrian Bayley’s trial was delayed time and again by breaches of the media suppression order that was put in place to ensure him a fair trial.
The constant battle between news outlets for viewers and readers means that they are held hostage to the demands of their audience. Because the fact is, whether we want to admit it or not, we love true crime stories. Journalists find themselves constantly flirting with the boundaries of their moral code, and often, as in the Cordingley murder case, the police are less than happy about their input.
The crux of it is, as long as there’s an interest from the audience, then media outlets have a responsibility to keep reporting. True crime gets our blood flowing.
Why wouldn’t they be battling to get a scoop like this out before the opposition?
As for the accusation that the media broke the story before the family were informed? Well, if, as Seven News reporter Sarah Greenhalgh claims, the breakthrough was known about two weeks before the story broke, perhaps it’s the police themselves who should be under the microscope here, not the media.