More than 15,000 people were murdered in South Africa last year. But it takes a very pretty victim, and a very famous alleged perpetrator, for us to notice.

The death of South African model Reeva Steenkamp, killed by her partner, Olympian Oscar Pistorius, in a case of alleged premeditated murder, has dominated global headlines. The case has received an astonishing 24,000 mentions in the Australian media in the last seven days.

We haven’t heard so much about the 98 Burmese asylum seekers who died of starvation and dehydration at sea while on their way to Australia or Indonesia. But then, they didn’t appear in a reality TV show or run for their country, did they?

The celebritisation of news, and its blending with entertainment, is nothing new. And there’s no denying the news value of the Pistorius case — the public has every right to follow it, given that we watched him run at London, and the death of Steenkamp is tragic.

But do we need to succumb so widely, so comprehensively, to the allure (and the easy headline) of celebrity? When US President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address last week, much of the Australian media gave more coverage to the case of fugitive US ex-cop Christopher Dorner. Sure, the case gripped the US media, but why the blanket coverage in Australia?

We’re not saying the media has to be “boring”. We’re just suggesting some more genuine reflection on the role and purpose of the media in the Kim Kardashian age of empty celebrity.

Peter Fray

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