Mar 14, 2013

Is the media coverage of Jill Meagher over the top?

When a beautiful young woman is murdered, it reminds of us the dark side of being human. But is the media's salacious coverage of such tragic events justified?

Jane Caro

Novelist, author and social commentator

Human beings are complex creatures. Our motives are often opaque, even to ourselves. We want to be fine, upstanding ethical and rational creatures, but the truth is our motivations are often murky, distorted and irrational.

Because “the media” are a human creation, they mirror those same contradictions. They like to pretend they have only the noblest of motives and they make decisions about what to feature and how to feature it for hard-headed, rational reasons. The truth is the media give us what we really, secretly — even unknowingly — want, because that’s what sells.

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2 thoughts on “Is the media coverage of Jill Meagher over the top?

  1. Michelle Imison

    Actually Jane, there’s another element to the coverage that left me a bit unsettled at the time, and that you haven’t mentioned: whenever this case was discussed, and regardless of the media forum, Jill Meagher was always referred to as ‘ABC employee Jill Meagher’.

    I can’t help thinking that, if she’d been an apprentice baker or a part-time student or an accountant, the fact of her occupation would not have been yoked to her name every time it was said. This communicated to me that the fact Jill Meagher worked for a media organisation was part of what made her more ‘interesting’ as a victim than she might have been otherwise and helped the story run as long as it did (journalists taking an interest in/closing ranks around one of their own, perhaps?).

    I can understand that people who had never met Jill Meagher felt grief over what happened to her, and that this precipitated the huge march in Melbourne not long after her death. But unpleasant things happen to others in society quite often – as you put it, ‘ugly old women’ as well as pretty young ones – without this level of public mobilisation, which seems to me to have come about in part because of the level of media attention given to the case in the first place. We know that the extent to which media outlets set public agendas; the fact that, in this case, they also ‘promoted’ this particular victim as more worthy of attention because (among other things, such as being young and pretty) she was also a media employee made me feel slightly queasy…

  2. Will

    This is a good piece. I enjoyed the argument that it is often the illusion of control behind the blame the victim stuff rather than just always sexism.

    Though I feel compelled to mention that I don’t accept the framework that the media simply mirrors our wants – baseness and all. Perhaps tabloids in a competitive market can approximate the public’s base appetite most of the time. But we don’t have perfect competition, and much depends on structure and proprietor interests.

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