The 55 year sentence handed out last Thursday to Sydney’s gang rapist has gone down exceeding well in the popular press and tabloid TV land. Hugo Kelly looks at the media feeding frenzy and we’ve got several of your interesting responses further down.

Of course, when the tabloids and their TV “current affair” cousins whip up a frenzy about this tragic situation, it’s all in the public interest. It’s not about boosting circulation, or ratings with lurid stories of deviant sex crimes. Oh, no!

And when Bob Carr steps in and grandstands about the need to lock up “racist” Arab rapists, he also understands that the gang rape case is all about good public policy not winning cheap votes. Yeah, sure.

The gang rape story has been a compelling one, and the meeja’s milked it for plenty. The Daily Telegraph has led the way, with an aggressive campaign spearheaded by court reporter Cindy Wockner and editor Campbell Reid aided and abetted by Bob Carr – designed to put maximum pressure on NSW District Court judge Michael Finnane to lock up the rapists and throw away the key.

The Tele has put the story front and centre, and Wockner’s coverage has included a highly personal front-page splash complaining about the behaviour of the perpertrators’ family and friends, who have loudly supported the rapists during the trial.

The coverage culminated in a magnificently malevolent front page splash GANG RAPE SENTENCE: 55 YEARS last friday which would have boosted circulation by 10,000 on Friday. Check out the Tele’s coverage here

And of course, when there’s bloodlust in the air, Tabloid TV is never far behind. Today Tonight and ACA ran hard on the story more of that later.

Of course, tabloid triumphalism over the criminal classes is nothing new. It follows a classic pattern. First they beat up a few crimes to scare the punters, then they run an opinion poll asking everyone how scared they are over the “crime wave”.

Witness the performance of the Herald Sun in recent weeks.

Last Tuesday, the Hun ran a front page splash about a paedophile who got a suspended sentence when the judge didn’t take into account several prior convictions. This appeared a case of negligence by the police prosecutor in not drawing the priors to the magistrate’s attention.

But the Hun has a well-known close relationship with the Victoria Police as we’ve previously observed. So sheeting home the blame where it more likely belongs, a lazy Inspector Plod prosecutor, was highly unlikely.

Instead, the Hun ran an angry editorial calling on the Government to change the law so that all priors can be taken into consideration. In other words, change the law to exactly what it is today.

And lo and behold, what did we see last week to boost the campaign? A hard-hitting Herald Sun report on how Victorians are quaking in their boots about rampaging criminals. “Victorians fear crime on rise: poll” screamed the headline to chief police reporter Peter Mickelburough’s story.

“RAMPANT gambling and drug-related crimes are causing growing fear, a statewide survey has found. Just 4 per cent of Victorians believe crime is decreasing. More than half (54 per cent) say it is rising,” wrote Mickelburough.

Scary stuff. So who commisioned the poll?

The phone survey of 400 people was “conducted for the Police Association and obtained by the Herald Sun”. Bless me! So the Police Union is pushing a survey that leads readers to conclude we need more police to tackle the rising tide of crime.

The Hun followed up with a hard-hitting phone-in survey: “Should Attorney General Rob Hulls change the law so courts take an offenders’ entire criminal history into account?”

The results: Yes: 2339, No: 59

A lazy 97.5% in favour of the obvious.

What a great way to run a newspaper. Editor Peter Blunden must have learned this trick during his visit to the UK for the Commonwealth Games.

Back in the world of Tabloiid TV, Today Tonight spotted the chance for a nice little earner. It launched a 1900 phone survey the day after the Sydney gang rape verdict, with a question designed to drag in a few thousand votes: “WAS THE JUDGE RIGHT?”, asked little Kerry Stokes’ good friend Naomi Robson. Viewers were urged to dial a 1900 number to register their vote, and help out Kerry’s cashflow problems.

Naomi told viewers: “We’ll present the results to judge Finnane’s chambers and endeavour to get a response from him.”

No doubt the judge will be delighted to hear the verdict of m’learned friends the viewers of Today Tonight. Wonder how they’ll vote?

What’s the prediction? If they don’t get a 97% plus vote in favour of the proposition, it’s time to for Today Tonight to shut up shop and give way to Summer Bay and a one hour daily edition of Home & Away.

ends

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Another Kelly sprays our man Hugo

By Chris Kelly

I found Hugo Kelly’s cynical take on the 55 year sentence business rather sad. I don’t listen to talkback radio. I don’t read tabloids, I don’t watch A Current Affair or Sixty Minutes, and the whole concept of TV phone-in polls I find laughable. “Bloodlust” is not part of how I form my opinions. Yet Hugo seems intent on taking the yawningly predictable stance that anybody who agrees with Justice Finnane’s decision is at best a redneck, at worst a racist thug incapable of forming his own opinion without input from the tabloid media. To that extent, his opinion is offensive.

As a long term subscriber to the Australian, I have noted that over the last few days the letters page has been massively, overwhelmingly in favour of Justice Finnane’s sentence. In fact, incredibly, over three days there was not one letter expressing opposition, which is unprecedented in my experience. Sorry, Hugo, oh anonymous one, these are not A Current Affair viewers we are talking about here. I cannot remember ever seeing such unanimity in the Australian’s letters page.

The Opinion pages have contained missives from academics expressing disquiet at a perceived sense of disproportion, particularly in relation to murder sentences. Not one has articulated the view many people have been trying to have heard for decades, namely that the “life” sentence for murder, usually meaning 15 years, is ludicrously lenient.

In short, Hugo old bean, we agree with you that things are out of proportion. 55 years sounds fine for the multiple rape, the details of which we have had such trouble comprehending (especially those of us with daughters, as opposed to those who pontificate over a cafe51 latte.) Proportionally speaking, let vicious premeditated murders such as Annette Cobby’s be worth 75 years. No parole. Will that help you come to terms with your conundrum?

Chris Kelly

HUGO KELLY: Us Kellys should stick together. People with weird names shouldn’t throw stones, Chris Kelly. I’m for real. My birth certificate says Hugo Kelly and there’s nothing anonymous about that you buffoon.

Support for Hugo from an unlikely source

Sadly, for the first time since becoming a Crikey subscriber, I find myself in agreement with Hugo Kelly!

I don’t claim to be an expert in criminal law, but the sentence of 55 years for the Sydney gang rapist seems odd (to put it mildly) in comparison with other crimes. Of course, I haven’t seen the judgment or heard the evidence – so there well may be circumstances that we average news-consumers are not aware of. However, I do fear that the media attention and New South Wales election politics may have played a part in the sentence.

For the record, I have two daughters who I love deeply with all my heart and I could well be moved to extremes were either of them hurt or humiliated in this way. I do not feel ANY sympathy for the rapist though I feel for his family. My greatest compassion is reserved however for the victims of this horrendous race crime and I applaud their bravery and courage in coming forward the way they did.

Holding these views is completely separate from the dispassionate exercise of criminal justice – a feature of our history which has been evolving and changing for centuries. We have the right to expect that punishments must fit crimes – why then is this sentence far more severe than other crimes involving rape and even torture and murder?

It may well be as your namesake suggests that this time the punishment DOES fit the crime. In that case, can we expect to see 100 year sentences for more severe crimes in the future?

How many new prisons will have to be built?

Has all hope of rehabilitation been abandoned?

Regards, Jim Toohey

The judge was right but Hugo’s point was laudable

I refer to Hugo Kelly’s piece on the tabloid media’s treatment of the sentences given by Judge Finnane to the gang rapists.

Hugo’s point is a laudable one; we all know that the cry of public interest by media organisations and politicians is almost invariably disingenuous. (This is particularly so with the otherwise impressive Bob Carr who has displayed an unfortunate pattern of governing in accordance with the dictates of the tabloid press and broadcasters such as Gloria.)

However, this is not the case to make that point. Each of the complaints made by Hugo Kelly can be readily answered on a reading of Judge Finnane’s judgment and by reviewing the conduct of family and supporters of the rapists in the courtroom.

There was no reason to place the term racist in inverted commas when describing the rapists; the attacks had a clear racial basis. They made race an issue during their attacks with comments including, but by no means limited to, “I’m going to f*** you leb style.”

As for the behaviour of the supporters of the defendants, there is no basis for asserting that the account of their conduct be described as “highly personal”, as if it somehow was reported upon simply because it merely upset the reporter’s own sensibilities. Judge Finnane made his own observations about the contempt that the defendant showed for the court process, culminating in the defendant (post judgment) calling the Judge a “c***”. It was also surely a matter of legitimate public interest to report that during proceedings the supporters were vociferously ridiculing the evidence given by the victims, and at one point an observation was made by one of them to the effect that, “it is not a crime to f*** a slut”.

It seems strange that a piece that smacks of censorship would be published on a website that prides itself on complete disclosure.

Save the complaints and critiques for more blatant and flagrant instances than this. In fact I am astonished that I am writing in defence of a tabloid newspaper but Hugo Kelly’s piece both objectionable and lacking in intellectual rigour. It really did strike me as a knee-jerk reaction to condemn reporting of the judgment because the whole affair seemed to be sensationalist or prurient. The reality is that it was a sensational case, with sexual and racial elements, and it was entirely appropriate to report all of those details, including all the reactions of those in the courtroom to it.

I abhor media sensationalism and the playing of the race card in reporting (or indeed in any area such as the last federal election). However, the outrage should be reserved for other cases which will undoubtedly come along.

Mike

p.s – love the website. compulsory reading.