The media take the rap for a great deal of sensationalism, pomposity and dumbing-down, much of it justified. Then a case like Geoff Clark comes along to redress the balance.

Clark claims to be the victim of “trial by media”, and his response to yesterday’s civil jury finding that he led two pack rapes against a teenage girl more than 35 years ago was this: “It’s an injustice … do you feel proud of what you’ve done, the media? You’ve interfered in the rule of law, you know that? So in effect it’s a victory for nobody.”

The former chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission is wrong, and this is a rare case where his media-bashing-and-blaming will elicit little if any  public support. As a government-appointed community leader, Clark’s character and behaviour was the legitimate subject of scrutiny. When, five years ago, The Age published allegations against him by several women, Clark replied with his trial-by-media defence. Yesterday it was his defence again, despite the jury’s decision.

The media’s investigative watchdog role may have no legal or constitutional grounding, is constantly attacked and often abused. But the Clark case shows that at crucial moments it matters to society. A lot.

Peter Fray

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