An Australian judge has recognised that the media coverage that those with some vestigial claim to celebrity attract when appearing in court on criminal charges is a form of punishment in its own right – and has mitigated a sentence accordingly.
That is utterly groundbreaking. Long may it continue.
The case concerned a young Australian drug addict, who had been present in a sordid apartment when three drug addicts and small time criminals got into a fight resulting in one man dying of stab wounds. Such a common or garden occurrence that it would barely have made it out of the local newspaper.
Harriet had been addicted to drugs since she was 10. Originally to Ritalin, a drug often prescribed to children with behavioural problems. She grew to be a teenager with bi-polar disorder. Eventually she acquired an addiction to methamphetamine. Crystal Meth.
Being a wealthy parent with limitless funds and political clout are meaningless when you have a daughter who is bi-polar and addicted to Crystal Meth. You can pay lots of people vast sums of money to give you professional advice – you have as much chance of success as a poverty stricken inner city parent.
Being a ‘privileged child’, going to private schools, being the beneficiary of a multi-million pound estate, are meaningless in the grip of a serious addiction. They are irrelevant. It is the next lump of ‘Ice’ that concerns you, not which school you went to.
The only people it does matter to are the media. ‘Poverty stricken inner-city parent fails to wean daughter off drugs’ doesn’t sell.
“Revealed:Wran’s role in ice junkies’ plot to murder a drug dealer.”
Now that works wonders when the name Wran is that of the former premier of New South Wales. It became world wide news, not because of what had happened, but because this young girl, Harriet, was fathered by Neville Wran, former longtime premier of New South Wales. On such information you can hang a syndicated column.
The details of the offence are easily Googled, they do not matter here. What interests me is that the judge recognised that both social media and the mainstream media had churned out an endless stream of highly derogatory and damaging stories about Harriet because she was ‘click-bait’.
‘In my opinion the publication of these egregious articles warrants the imposition of a sentence that takes account of Ms Wran’s continuing exposure to the risk of custodial retribution, the unavoidable spectre of enduring damage to her reputation and an impeded recovery from her ongoing mental health and drug-related problems.’
He accepted that in this particular case, her celebrity arose from ‘an accident of birth’ rather than her courting of publicity.
Even so, the mitigating factor was the ‘extra-curial punishment’ of her invasion of privacy by the media, including allegations regarding her sexual life, photographs purloined from private collections, and the publication of private correspondence. This had led to threats to her life in prison, where she had to be put in isolation for her own protection, and that these threats were likely to continue into her ongoing normal life. The lurid coverage was out of all proportion to the actual gravity of her offence.
I am minded here of the media coverage of individuals such a Dave Lee Travis – an offence so paltry in comparison to the lurid headlines at the time.
Could this be the answer to our problems in the UK? Rather than demand anonymity for the accused – show the media that they are free to publish what they want, but that lurid speculation out of all proportion to the actual offence will be taken as a mitigating factor in sentencing? And the offending media named and shamed.
News Corps Sydney tabloids were particularly singled out for their ‘ill-informed’ reportage.
Imagine the public reaction to ‘Adam Johnson found guilty, but sentence reduced to six months after lurid and ill-informed media coverage by the Daily [xxx] is taken into account in mitigation…’
There’s a thought to ponder on.