Media are crucial in criminal justice. So how did they cover the big top?

The news media are routinely criticized as part of the problem in perceptions of crime, justice and the prison system. So which perspectives would reporters strive for at the much-announced summit of criminal law? Asher Emanuel went to the event in Porirua to find out.

IContrary to the carefully managed schedule, the floor was thrown open on Wednesday at the top of the criminal forum. On the second and last day at 9.00 am the 700 attendees were invited for the first time to make open contributions from the floor. The change came in response to criticism that the first day had taken too much time by politicians.

A gang member stood up and challenged Kelvin Davis & # 39; characterization of gang issues as overly simple. A Te Puea marae representative asked for a comprehensive Māori justice strategy. A young man said that he witnessed the suicide of his fellow army and friend in prison. An advocate for male survivors of sexual abuse expressed his annoyance.

"I am sick and tired of putting the male survival vote on the table for the past 25 years and it has been forgotten, we know from research all over the world that up to 70% of men in prison for sexual offenses are sexually abused in their childhood.

"I was optimistic the night before when we started it, I was a bit more stupid in some areas, but today I feel optimistic, I want Jacinda to acknowledge that he has the courage to do this, I want to acknowledge all ministers they are here because I know it must be hard to know that you are all being bombed. & # 39;

Alison Mau, one of the MC's, asked employees to keep their language clean.

And then Jayne Crothall, a member of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, whose daughter was murdered in 1993, took the floor and said the words that would dominate the coverage of the day.

"This has been a terrible summit for crime victims because we are revictimised," she said. "People here have been told that they do not know what it's like to be a victim because they're European, there have been many racist remarks that are actually quite inhumane.

"I am not a single racist who speaks to the imagination, my murdered daughter was Māori, but I have never heard so much racism, but what I do want to say is that there is a lot of guilt, there are many excuses, many experts on criminology. and no experts in the field of victimology. & # 39;

Wondered outside the location, Crothall spoke with Newshub, political editor Tova O & # 39; Brien. "I'm sure we've been frozen," she said.

O & # 39; Brien argued that against Andrew Little, the minister of justice, at the press presentation at 10.20. "Have you frozen the victims?"

"No, not at all, there are victims here, there are victims here," said Little, his eyebrows flew up.

& # 39; But they do not feel like they have a voice here, & # 39; reacted O & # 39; Brien.

Along side ministers Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash carried blank expressions.

At 12:18 pm Stuff's head read: "Mother of murdered Christchurch 3-year-old complains about the top of the criminal law of the government". Then at 13:05 the Herald# Similar "mother of murdered 3-year-old slams & # 39; racist & # 39; criminal top & # 39;

Andrew Little blinked. In what was certainly an attempt to put an end to the new storyline, the minister spoke from the podium: he would not "sign a reform program that does not result in a meaningful change for crime victims". Few later the details of another summit, aimed at victims, would be announced in the coming weeks.

"I think Andrew has responded well," said Kim Workman, founder of the progressive reform group Rethinking Crime and Punishment and 2018 Senior New Zealander of the Year, told the Spinoff.

"But I think they should do something quickly because that will be a major political issue for National, and if the media picks it up, it will just change the whole thing."

However, it was too late to change the story.

"Everybody has that story today – everyone went to Jayne Crothall to talk to her, and every reporter here talked to her," said a reporter who talked about the event.

A crowd of media liaisons and press secretaries were on the way ready to facilitate interviews with participants who would experience the legal system, international experts, civil servants and politicians. Why this story?

"It is a very obvious approach in what is a large and complex subject," said the journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Or that, or they were too scared to leave it, because it is now this attrition, where you can not leave a story, even if you think it has no corner or is clearly already covered in. Everyone has the feeling that if they do not have this story, they do not do their job, that's not how it always was, but that's internet and that's live, real-time news. "

On the first day, another brief intervention had dominated coverage.

Anzac Wallace, kaiwhakaruruhau for the Manukau Urban Māori Authority had stood after a speech by secretary for justice Jan Logie and criticized the procedure for inadequate representation of Māori and for passing only two days. His remarks led the Herald and stuffCover on the first day.

And so the whole event was largely reduced in essence to two stories.

"We all deal with the same story," the journalist said.

& # 39; The corner of everyone's story yesterday was Anzac. And the angle today will be Jayne. & # 39;

And it seems likely that the second corner will have the most sustainable impact.

AAfter the questions put to the press, it seemed likely that Newshub would also focus on Cothrall's dissatisfaction.

I asked Brien if she had talked with the organizers of the conference about the extent to which the perspectives of the victims had been included in the event.

"I think that the way Andrew Little would answer that would be to say that many of the people who are perpetrators are also victims and I think we've heard a little bit about that, for sure, Jayne, who did some work is with the Sensible Sentencing Trust, felt that her voice as a victim was not heard and that votes of perpetrators were given priority. "

(The Sensible Sentencing Trust is a lobby group based on law and order with, historically, a focus on harsh punishments, for example at a certain point in the establishment of chain gangs. Herald and Newsroom, the news coverage of Newshub did not identify Cothrall as being linked to the Sensible Sentencing Trust. Neither did Stuff. Denis O & Reilly, presented in the Newshub clip as a contrasting voice against Cothrall, says that helping offenders and victims was not mutually exclusive, however, was identified as a Black Power member.)

There were many victims and experts in the field of victims at the top.

Dr. Kim McGregor, the Chief Victims Advisor of the government, held a session on crime victims the first day.

"I had a panel of mine and four other experts working with victims, I talked about the fact that the current system does not work for victims, the system largely ignores and often recicts victims mostly." We had Professor Jan Jordan tell us about the way survivors of rapists who go through the judicial system can make their voices heard, "she said.

Professor Denise Wilson spoke in particular about Māori women who are victims of domestic violence, who sometimes fought against the perpetrator and were subsequently punished. Then Ken Clearwater spoke about male victims and the lack of recognition that many men are victims of sexual violence and family violence.

"I know there are many victims here, there are many supporters of victims, and their voices have been heard at this summit."

Ruth Money, formerly a member of the Sensible Sentencing Trust and now one of the members of the forum for criminal lawyers, told me that she thought that the perspectives of the victims were included in the process.

"I think the pastor, with my presence on the board, with Shila, has given an important nod to the victims [Nair]Presence in the board. And Tracey McIntosh – it's not just me and Shila who do victim work. I sincerely believe that there is respect for the victims. "

Had Newshub heard of other victims?

"I have also spoken to other victims who feel that their voice is being heard, which may be more at the top than the Sensible Sentencing Trust-aligned people," said Brien Me.

"But how do you give one victim weight over another?" She said.

Perhaps the pragmatic reality has formed to who was listened to. The journalist who asked not to be mentioned pointed out the practical benefits of covering the stories of Wallace and Crothall.

"Anzac has a reasonable profile, he was an actor, and Jayne often told her story and she worked with the Sensible Sentencing Trust."

The Herald was able to use stills from the 1984 film Utu in which Wallace starred, and Stuff had long video assets on the basis of his & # 39; Faces of the Innocent & # 39; project in which Cothrall was shown. The later news from Newshub contained clips of police vehicles outside Cothrall's home in 1993.

There had been so many different stories at the event. How does O & # 39; Brien choose what the news is?

"I will not release her [Cothrall] out about others. There were other people here today who also spoke very well. Yesterday we recorded a lot of Anzac Wallace, who took the floor when Jan Logie was on stage because he felt that Māori voices were not heard enough and he felt so moved to do so. And the minister acknowledged that, actually, yes, that is absolutely right.

"And today the minister also acknowledged that it is absolutely right that victims feel that they have been frozen and acknowledged that this is a problem, so for me that is a valid problem that the government has acknowledged. & # 39;

All stories, especially if the story is going to be evening bulletin, need a bit of a conflict: truth and lies, insults, a minister who makes a quick decision. Or in the case of the story you're reading now, framing a news media against a government trying to fix a broken system.

At the Checkpoint of RNZ that evening John Campbell also started with the corner of the victims.

"The Minister of Justice tries to reassure the victims that he is focused on them, while he is rehabilitating criminals while tensions, well, reach the boiling point at a summit meeting in court."

The reporter said: "The mother of a three-year-old who was murdered broke into tears today when a Māori woman claimed that Pākehā did not know what it was like to be the victim."

"Minister of Justice regards only victim-top", read the newspaper head of Newshub.

"Victims of crime say that they have been released from the government's government and reforms that encourage the minister of justice to consider holding a specific version of the conference for victims only," said Mike McRoberts, who introduced the story.

First there was a clip of two young men who had become the victims of domestic violence with their mother, and a performance they had done before the summit. And then Cothrall: "I absolutely think we are frozen."

Only the Herald and RNZ reported that Māori participants had convened a Māori caucus independently earlier that day, resulting in a request to the Minister to support a Māori-focused event, which, as with the victim-focused event, accepted Little.

Tthe news coverage was not entirely fair for Crothall's comments that morning. Yes, she criticized the top and excluded herself by someone else's comments. But she also talked about what would have been useful for her in recovering.

"It was really hard for me, but I met my child's killer in prison and the confrontation was really beneficial during his trip," she told the summit.

"So what I would like to get from here is saying: giving account and admitting that what you have done is wrong is really a very important step."

Only the Herald reported that she had met the man who had killed her daughter, although her speculations about it had not been included.

I spoke to Money again about the omission of this part of Cothrall's contribution.

"They love it, they do it very well," Money said about the media.

& # 39; On what her daughter's birthday would have been, she is in a room with 700 people who would trigger her PTSD and she is still busy talking about how she finally finally got a solution when she finally Sibley met. And it helped the process. But that part of it was not told.

"They want to drop the Garth McVicars [former head of the Sensible Sentencing Trust] against the Kim Workmans. That is their model for selling papers. We all have to pass that. "

Recently Andrew Little asked the media to be cautious about how it was about crime and justice. Early last week he spoke with me about the difficult balance between awakening a legitimate criticism and being seen to exceed his role.

"As a politician, I do not want to appear to tell the press how to do his job, they have very important jobs to do, and one of them is to testify to the criminal justice system and how it works.

"But I think it's important to be proportionate in reporting, we know that there are lobby groups, or at least one lobbying group, that really strives to create an environment where stricter answers and more severe penalties are recorded. have used some pretty unfair tactics. "

O & # 39; Brien was critical of the Minister's recent interventions.

"It's important that Andrew Little does not put the parameters on people – the government does not put them down – in terms of who they can talk to when they go through far-reaching court reforms," ​​she said.

"I certainly do not think it helps to tell media how to report, and every journalist must take responsibility and acknowledge that we are in a privileged position, we talk to many people, but I do not think it helps the minister to to call in the interest of some victims and to free them from the conversation. & # 39;

Of course, the point of political journalists is to challenge the government. But the idea of ​​a victims' summit – a result that is influenced to a large extent by the media development of the top – raises a rather difficult question. Who exactly is a victim? And, as O & # 39; Brien had asked, how do you give one weight to another?

Kim Workman told me that the Sensible Sentencing Trust, for example, refused to argue for people who had a criminal history.

"But that excludes most victims! You are a victim one week and the other the offender."

In most cases there is no clear line. Seventy-seven percent of the prison population is the victim of violence; more than half of all women in prison and 15% of men have experience with sexual abuse.

Workman pointed out that the demographers most affected by the crime are Māori women.

"52 or 53 percent of all victims come from the same social and economic circumstances as perpetrators, so they are marginalized people, the majority of whom are Māori women, and they are victims several times."

The criticism of the National Party at the event also tried to make a clear distinction between victims and perpetrators.

"[Little’s] attitude shows that he is firmly on the side of the perpetrators and does not want to know about crime victims, "read Mark Mitchell's press release.

Workman asked the national record about the problems of victims.

"One of the main messages from the previous national government was that we need to restore the balance in the system between victims and perpetrators, and what they really meant was what we would reduce the rights of offenders to get the right balance, instead of to say that we are actually going to tackle the problems for the victims, and they did very little for the victims. & # 39;

The entire spectrum of victims is much more complicated to talk about than cases in which a person has become a victim of a single and especially disturbing crime.

Andrew Bridgeman, the secretary for justice and chief executive of the Ministry of Justice, said that media coverage of crimes committed by foreigners obscures the prevalence of domestic violence in New Zealand.

"What it comes down to is that the most risky place for most New Zealanders to find themselves, in terms of violent crime, is their home – strange danger is not the big risk, but the way the media portray the crime is the unknown danger element.

"The media have a phenomenal potential to change the way people think about things."

A false dichotomy between victims and perpetrators also obscures the fact that most people agree that the system is good for neither of them.

Moana Jackson, author of the 1987 report Maori and the criminal justice system: a new perspective / he Whaipaanga Hou, when pleading for a decolonized criminal justice system, is also critical about how the current system treats the victims.

"In the current system there is no relationship rebuilding," Jackson told The Spinoff.

"Because that system takes the victim away, the state becomes the victim, and there is no chance of repentance, of healing, it is a flawed system in human terms."

I suggested to Money that it seemed that media coverage emphasized a conflict between the interests of victims and perpetrators.

"I do not think that's healthy, I think the media are irresponsible," she said. Money supported the effort to have an all-encompassing event to start the year of work for the panel.

"I think we should be very grateful This has not happened before It was really a courageous move to put so many participants from the whole system in one big room, which is really courageous.

"It's all very well and good for us to be negative and to come out and say & # 39; you should have & # 39; and & # 39; you could have & # 39; & & # 39; & # 39; you do not & # 39 ;, but actually what did we do, and what did we reach?

"I think the level of understanding of the system and the minister around victims has definitely improved in these days and my understanding of some of the offending programs has also grown over the past two days! was not it? To get us all in one room and start the conversation. & # 39;

Earlier in the day I had asked Kelvin Davis, minister of corrections, for media reports about crime and justice. His reaction was almost prophetic.

"It's too easy for the media to go head-to-head and grab the soundbite, I think that contradicts what we're trying to achieve here, and we're trying to conduct a rational public debate, but it will not work if you people who only try to catch the head, take the soundbite, it's important that people act sensibly and rationally, "he said.

"The media play a very important role in achieving the goals we have set if they want to, and if they do not want to be part of it, if they just want to grab those sound bites, it will make our work more difficult and it will make the community less secure in the long term. "

"Every journalist strives to tell the truth in a fair and balanced way", emphasized O & # 39; Brien.

"I do not think there has been any kind of motivation to derive or distract from what is actually going on."

If Wallace or Cothrall had not said what they were doing, if Simon Bridges had not mentioned it as a counseling session or one of the other twists, you may not have read about the top at all, or you may have to be two nights in a row TV news. One of the jobs of the advisory group, and the objectives of the summit, was to have a debate take place. And that's what it did.

But what could be the biggest achievement of the summit was something that was both too simple and too complicated to tell within the limits of a news story: so many people get with different experiences and expertise with the criminal justice system under one roof, with seniors judges sit next to senior gang members who may have seen each other in court in the past from their respective seats.

And the news stories that did emerge inevitably speak of the tension to bring together a mix of different experiences.

Chester Borrows, former national MP and now chairman of the advisory group, told me it was important that participants had the opportunity to speak freely with officials and politicians.

"The ability of those people to stand up and say what they want and have the ear of the ministers, and be quite controversial and confrontational, in a way they liked – even though the politicians may not have been – exactly what was meant, it was not written, but nobody is worried about it. & # 39;

How would Borrows explain the event?

"You would say that there was a lot of involvement in people who worked on the coal side, and giving their energy and their time and their lives and their money to working with people who are locked up or people being released, try people out of prison and politicians, supplemented by some academics, some of the judiciary and some politicians.

"In the session in which I was sitting [on Māori overrepresentation in the criminal justice system] there must have been 20 people standing on the floor. I have not seen that before. This is open. On such & # 39; s forum. & # 39;

A person who had spent time in prison during his session explained to Davis during that session that the Department of Corrections' policy made it difficult for former prisoners who had been successfully reintegrated to work with the current prisoners.

"What on earth is that: you can not associate with other criminals, but we are success stories! How will they succeed, how can they talk to people?" She said.

"They do not want to see you Kelvin Davis, maybe you're Māori, but come on, they can not talk to you! But we, in prison, have a brotherhood and a sisterhood, we speak the same language.

"But I'm glad this happens," the woman concluded, talking about the top.

Borrows said that he was aware of the problems with Corrections Policy with regard to this subject, but the session had once again emphasized its importance to him.

"Ex-prisoners working with convicts Well, it makes sense that gang members really work with gang members in prison because they are doing very well."

Borrows said that the kind of contact between officials, politicians and people affected by the system at the top was essential for effective reforms.

"You can not write a justice policy if you never occupy yourself with people inside and out," he told me.

"If you think you have all the answers, you should not go near a pen that will write a policy.

"In the past we have had a minister of justice who never wanted to see a prisoner and yet went to write corrections and justice policy, even if she would never let herself in. How are you? do Which? It is just angry. & # 39;

Andrew Little and other ministers showed an unusual attitude by making himself personally accessible to everyone who was present. They tried to make room for victims, whether it was for victims whose only contact with the system was victim, or, as is much more common, people who come into contact with the system sometimes as offenders, sometimes as victims and sometimes as family and friends of both.

Despite the attractive story of victims on the one hand, perpetrators on the other, reforming a system that treats both badly, does not have to be a matter of shared loyalties.

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