Thursday, October 21, 2010

‘Court’ out

We have previously discussed how privatized and secretive courts and their proceedings can be, and in addition the lack of public who visit courts. Furthermore, we have briefly scratched the surface in the matter of allowing television in court, and a recent article published by Crikey has opened this up to further deliberation.

If we look back just a bit, it becomes clear this issue has been under debate for several years. Marsh & Melville (2009) evaluate the first trial filming at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Scotland. Discussion of the trial concluded that the filming made for good television; it received a huge amount of press coverage, and was watched by healthy audiences. This suggests that filming court proceedings may be a solution to the lack of public attendance and awareness of this element of the criminal justice system.

Cameras in court enable justice to be seen, and thus filming may assure the public that the court systems are doing a fine job, more so than the portrayals of courts accessible through fictional television dramas and sensationalized documentaries.

In addition to the aforementioned pros, there are also cons to this proposal. As seen in the past, filming in court may see ‘justice being reduced to voyeuristic entertainment’ (Stepniak, 2003); most of these situations involved high profile cases, for example the OJ Simpson and Menendez brothers murder trials.

Tom Cowie of Crikey posted an interesting article last month on the possibility of cameras in courts. He describes how Victoria’s Chief Justice has suggested that courts should publish a weekly online newspaper to provide reasons for judge’s decisions. She said ‘judges had come under increasing attacks from the media’ and they should ‘break their traditional code of silence’ (Crikey, 2010). Judge Warren said “They (judges) are vulnerable to the news-hungry commentaries who will usually focus on the outcome, not the reasoned process to reach the outcome, then deplore the result if it is unpopular and proceed to criticise the judge.” (Crikey, 2010).

Clearly some see this idea as a solution to the media, others may suggest it opens up the courts to more criticism or may catch judges ‘spinning’. So should courts embrace technology and broadcast proceedings, or even host online newspapers? Does there need to be regulations to ensure proper restraints? Will producing transparency be a better way for people to understand the administration of justice?
Food for thought.


Cowie, T 2010, ‘Better than online, TV in courts… under oath the camera doesn’t lie’, Crikey, 23 September 2010, retrieved 21 October 2010, Crikey database.

Marsh, I & Melville, G 2009, Crime, Justice and the Media’, Routledge, New York.

Stepniak, D 2003, ‘British Justice: Not suitable for public viewing’ in Mason, P (ed.), Criminal Visions: Media Representations of Crime and Justice, Willan Publishing, Cullompton.

It is clear by this stage of our course that the media play a sizeable part in developing society’s perceptions of the criminal justice system, and all it entails. Thus, it is of no surprise that the media also contribute to the way we perceive victims; this is why it is essential to examine the media representation of victims.

The term ‘victimology’ was coined by Frederick Wertham, who thought there should be a ‘science of victimology’ (Wertham, 1949). Positivist victimology has become widely known, and has been described as, ‘the identification of factors which contribute to a non random pattern of victimization, a focus on interpersonal crimes of violence, and a concern to identify victims who may have contributed to their own victimization’ (Miers, 1989, as cited in Marsh & Melville, 2009). Similarly, Mendelsohn (1963) argued that some victims were culpable. Both of these notions overemphasized blame and vulnerability, and therefore it is not difficult to understand why they have succumbed to a great deal of debate and criticism.

Marsh and Melville (2009) interestingly suggest that the media have the power to socially construct the idea of the victim. In researching this proposal, I came across a term that has gained increasing controversy. ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’ (or MWWS) is a vernacular term created to describe the disproportionately greater extent of coverage by the media on young, attractive, white, middle-class women (usually in missing persons cases). Focusing on ‘the damsel in distress’, this term seems to have surfaced during the Laci Peterson case in 2002. At the same time Laci went missing and was dominating media coverage, a pregnant African-American woman named LaToyia Figueroa disappeared at the same time and attracted no national attention.

In 2010 this terminology has been attributed to more cases. Last month, Valerie Hamilton was murdered in Niagara Falls, NY. The media reports on her described her as pretty 23-year-old student of community college and the daughter of Concord Police chief. This raised controversy, some of which can be seen on the video on this page:

As this term is relatively new it will be interesting to track its development in the field of criminology as academic literature begins to appear on it. The media could not possible report on every single individual missing persons case; the question is, how do they determine which cases to report on?


Marsh, I & Melville, G 2009, Crime, Justice and the Media’, Routledge, New York.

Mendelsohn, B 1963, ‘The origin and doctrine of victimology’ in Rock, P (ed), Victimology, Dartmouth, Aldershot.

Wertham, F 1949, The Show of Violence, Doubleday, New York.

The Role of Surveillance

In the technological age we are at, it is no surprise that technology has the ability to influence the portrayal of crime and its victims. As mentioned in a previous blog, CCTV surveillance can be used for the good, by police in investigations of criminals. Alternative footage, in this case mobile phone camera footage, is surfacing increasingly when media agencies report on crimes.

In his discussion of the panoptican, Foucault (1977) pointed out the disciplinary possibility of surveillance:

“The perfect discipline apparatus would make it possible for a single gaze to see everything constantly. A central point would be both the source of light illuminating everything and a locus of convergence for everything that must be known: a perfect eye that nothing would escape and a centre towards which all gazes would be turned.”

Foucault probably had no idea that his words would become so applicable to modern-day technology. The mobile phone is virtually Foucault’s ‘perfect eye’; they are always at ones disposal and, when camera footage is released, ‘all gazes would be turned’. With the creation of mobile phones has come the demise of privacy.

Many crimes have been captured on footage; Jamie Bulger’s abduction, Jill Dando’s last moments, even Rodney King’s beating by police (Marsh & Melville, 2009). A recent case involving the death of a NRL fan has inundated the news with mobile phone footage of the incident. St George Illawarra fan Steven Bosevski died at the leagues club on October 4th, the morning after the NRL grand final (ABC News, October 4). Mobile phone footage has implicated police, capturing four officers beating the victim.

This link shows a broadcast by ABC News, presenting the phone camera footage.
The story remains unclear as to what occurred that morning; witnesses claim police used excessive force, including capsicum spray and batons, while the police are alleging that the victim attacked an officer with a bottle. The verdict is still not clear yet; the police have formed a critical incident team to investigate.

This recent event is just an example of how technology such as mobile phones has come to affect crime, both in its implication of police in crimes, and in its representations of victims to the public.


ABC News, October 4 2010.

Foucault, M 1977, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Allen Lane, London.

Marsh, I & Melville, G 2009, Crime, Justice and the Media’, Routledge, New York.

Minus, J 2010 ‘Police Used Excessive Force, Bosevski Brothers Say’, The Australian, Monday October 4.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Facebook Justice

Facebook was created in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg. Originally restricted to Harvard University students, access was eventually allowed to other college students in the US and Canada, and then Asia. Since September 11, 2006 it has been available for any internet address globally. By September 2007, only one year after global launch, the site had over 42 million active users. It now has 500 million (

With the extreme lack of privacy that Facebook produces, alongside ease of accessing personal information in this day and age, it is not surprising that 'cybercrime' has surfaced since the launch of such social networking sites.

But more recently it is the police that have captured the social networking spotlight in the media. Two particular issues have come to light recently- police using Facebook to target crime, and police irresponsibly using Facebook.

Lesson #1

If you graffiti something, do not post photos of it and brag on Facebook.

When a certain tag began appearing all over Winnipeg, police received a tip off directing them to Facebook where they found photos of the same design on an 18 year olds page.

Lesson #2

If you're caught on surveillance, just because you don't have a mugshot already, doesn't mean there isn't a photo of you out there.

Recently the police of Queenstown NZ caught their first Facebook criminal after posting a photo from a surveillance camera, when someone recognised the criminal from Facebook.

Lesson #3

When you commit a hurtful hate-crime on your college campus, don't assume that your victim doesn't have Facebook.

After a gay-hate crime occurred at Georgetown University, the victim went straight to the police and Facebook; it didn't take him long to find his attacker on the University Facebook page, where the small population of students all use the site.

In February of this year, an article was posted about police in the United States beginning to use Facebook to fight crime. For example, pages have been set up for missing persons cases, rendering useful information and tips leading to arrests. Photos are posted from surveillance footage asking for help identifying criminals. Posts are made about deceased police officers, as well as damaged power lines and reminding people to sign up for an emergency text message service (Calderon, 2010).

“I thought that would be a good way to open up communication between the public and our police department,” said Officer Muntean. “A lot of people just feel more comfortable posting on the Wall than talking on the phone.”

As well as evidence that Facebook has become a useful tool for police, there is also evidence showing Facebook and other social networking sites causing problems for police officers.

As a generation of officers that are accustom to using social networking sites enter the ranks, they are less inclined to see the problems with using these sites in their line of work. Problems that have recently arisen involving misuse of electronic media include releasing privileged information on officers blogs and twitter, viewing of internet pornography sites on department computers, and posting of distasteful photographs.

In April of last year the US news reported on several officers who had joined a Facebook group called 'The Make It Rain Foundation For Underprivaleged Hoes'. Alongside this, these officers had posted comments about trips to strip clubs and excessive drinking. Photos posted on the officers' Facebook pages showed them in uniform. These officers are still under internal review.

So will this new age of mass technological social networking become a new form of justice, or just more of a menace? Only time will tell.

Calderon, S 2010, 'Police use Facebook to fight crime, talk to residents', Inside Facebook, 19 February, p.10
Marsh, I & Melville, G 2009, Crime Justice and the Media, Routledge, New York
'More police in trouble over social media policy violations', The Crime Report, 12 August, 2010
Newell, J 2009, 'Capitol Police in trouble over Facebook hoes', Washington, April
Weber, L 2009, 'Internet Justice- Six crimes solved by Facebook', Asylum, May

Monday, August 16, 2010

Quiet Riot

What do you get when you take a bunch of men, give them loads of free time, a pinch of opportunity and a tablespoon of desperation? Riots.

On August 6, only a couple of weeks ago, the American news reported that a prison brawl had left 14 criminals dead in Mexico. Early that morning, the biff broke out between two groups of prisoners in a jail in the city of Matamoros. They used homemade blades and weapons to attack each other.

Explanations of this event have centered around the country's thriving drug trade, although a severely flawed prison system is seen to be provoking Mexico's cycles of violence. Some prosecutors even told of prison officials at one Mexican prison in Durango state permitting inmates to leave the jail at night to carry out revenge killings against rival drug syndicates.

When watching the documentary by Louis Theroux, it was made clear that in American prisons racial segregation is the norm. Articles on the Mexican prison riot last week did not state whether racial tension played a part in the events.

My Uncle is a correctional officer at Silverwater jail in Sydney. He showed me some shocking footage from a security camera that somehow made its way to YouTube.

Although the footage is from a couple of years ago, it is still absolutely unreal to watch. In this brawl Asian and Aboriginal groups fought, although the reasons behind the attack were unclear. It is interesting to note that the initiator was concealing a homeade shank. Also, that the prisoners stay away from the Officers and do not harm them. My Uncle explained that they have a sense of respect for the officers, as well as knowing better than to lay a hand on them because of the severe consequences of harming an officer. And the fact that this footage made it to YouTube, well, only in this day and age, right?

I found this topic rather interesting, prompting me to research further into prison riots. Coincidentally, the most violent prison riot ever recorded was the New Mexico Penitentiary riot on February 2 and 3, 1980. 33 inmates died, with more than 200 treated for serious injuries. None of the 12 prison officers were killed, but 7 were treated for serious injuries resulting from beatings and rapes.

It seems that prison riots are unavoidable. And the media will always report them as they are the exceptional event, they are newsworthy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Copy and paste

Does media exposure to crime inspire copycats?

Made popular by the work of John B. Watson in the 1920's, the 'hypodermic needle' model, referred to in media effects literature, is the idea that media descriptions and depictions have such an extensive impact on some people's behaviour. This model focuses on the relationship between people's behaviour and their environment. In terms of stimulus and response, this suggests that social behaviour is powerfully influenced by external factors; the mass media is one of these stimuli.

Like a drug injection, the intake of antisocial or even violent actions may lead to repeating the behaviour.

People are passive recipients. The Copycat Syndrome questions whether there is a direct causal link between media portrayals of violence and these portrayals influencing people to act in a violent manner.

Marsh and Melville (2009) exemplify a number of copycat crimes that have occurred, but upon researching this topic, many more can be found.

When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold massacred Columbine High School in 1999, many people attributed factors of their crime to popular film The Matrix. The criminals themselves were said to of modelled their black mafia trenchcoat costumes on Neo, lead character of The Matrix. But this is where the similarities ended. In the film, Neo practices martial arts, not gun weaponry, and his targets are computer-generated images, not school children.

In cases such as these, parents of the criminals attempt to sue the companies that produce movies such as The Matrix, claiming they are responsible for the crimes their films inspired. Not surprisingly, most of these claims fail as a causal connection cannot be made. But recently a new form of causal connection is emerging-the philosophy of The Matrix interacted with the psychology of the mentally ill, causing them to commit these crimes. So are these criminals 'not guilty by reason of the Matrix'?

The most disturbing part of this emergence is that two defendants have successfully asserted pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity, as the judge accepted the 'Matrix bases' plea.

In November 2008, Canadian filmmaker Mark Twitchell was charged with the murder of a man in a crime that police believed was "life imitating art". Twitchell was an obsessed fan of tv series Dexter, and had also writ en a screenplay, which his murder had copied a scene from.

An executive of Dexter responded to suggestions that their hit show could provoke people to commit copycat crimes by including a copycat criminal, who's crimes come back to bite him, in the storyline of the second season. The shows producers had begun to worry that they were making a skilled serial killer a modern-day hero. "That's our way of saying, 'Don't try this at home,' " Cerone said.

More recently though, certain individuals have employed the media for good rather than evil. In April of this year, Judge Bell in Westmoreland County USA ordered Tyler Gorinski, a 23 yr old on repeat offender on criminal trespassing charges, to watch 2005 film Cinderella Man. The judge has sentenced many juveniles to watch the film with their parents and write him a letter explaining what it meant to them. "It's like chicken soup. Can it help? Maybe. Can it hurt? No," Bell said.

In May this year, the Sydney Morning Herald told of an 8 year old boy in America that knew to scratch an attacker, attempting to kidnap his younger sister, to attain DNA evidence from watching tv show NCIS. A short video listed below shows the boy explaining:

Through providing a vast catalogue of connections and interpretations between events and a range of violent acts depicted by the media, it would appear that the evidence is circumstantial. Little research has been done on copycat crime, yet empirical evidence doesn't support the anecdotal evidence. It is impossible to prove that a particular media depiction that is followed by the occurrence of a similar act of behaviour actually caused that behaviour.

Cholodofsky, R 2010 'Westmoreland County Judge orders young offenders to watch inspirational film', Tribune, April
Greek, C 1997, Copy-cat Crimes, Salem Press, Pasadena California
Hilden, J 2003, 'Murder and the Matrix', Counterpunch
'How little Nathan nailed his sister's would-be abductor', Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May, 2010,
Marsh, I & Melville, G 2009, Crime, Justice and the Media, Routledge, Oxon.