Over the years we have seen the media take a stronger position in criminal cases. It has had an influence on the audience. So much so that many cases can cause for change of venue because there is no desire to have those in the community being on the jury because they have heard only certain parts of the case in the media.
For instance, the State of California vs. Michael Jackson. The case ran through the media day and night. The different processes that took place until he was acquitted of Child Molestation. I previously discussed this in my Media Law course. Yes, I was a fan of Michael Jackson, we are discussing the crime though. He was the King of Pop. The world loved him. No one could believe that he had committed the crime that he had been accused of. No one wanted to believe the evidence that was presented. The media played the Jackson 5 movie repeatedly which I am sure influenced those who were chosen for the jury. We have all seen the movie and heard the unfortunate upbringing that the Jackson’s children had to deal with. The Jury felt that the evidence was not there to find him guilty of the crime — the one thing that many people did not know previously is that there was a precedent to be considered on those charges. Previously to the 2005 case, there was a case that was silently settled out of court on the same charges. Two jurors came out two months after the acquittal was passed down to say that they did not agree with the acquittal but that they were forced to do so. Everyone on the jury were determined not to find him guilty of a crime that he previously admitted being guilty of.
Another example can be that of George Zimmerman. His murder victim Trayvon Martin was a 17 year old kid walking home from the store, George proceeded to follow him as he talked on his cell phone not doing anything to make Zimmerman worry besides walking. Zimmerman chose to pursue him, then shoot him. The media instantly dove into the social media of the teenager to create a persona for the victim who could not speak for himself. The took the word victim from Trayvon. These are things that they have done to many other victims and perpetrators of crimes.
The every growing of sensationalism has made crime and the criminals who commit them a beautiful thing. It has made us forget who the victims are and the horrible crimes that have been to them. “If it bleeds it leads”, is a big part of our media culture and there is no way to fix it right now. The fear that doom and gloom puts on the audience keeps us watching, not because we like it but because we feel that we need to be in the know of what may possibly come. With this we make the criminal a celebrity, a public figure in our society.
To me this is the reason why true justice has a hard time coming through. The news that is considered newsworthy sometimes has damaging results. There either leads to the innocent until proven guilty is not getting their right to a speedy trial. The victim has to go into hiding because of the constant judging that takes place of their character — character defamation. Even the right to take their case to another jurisdiction can create an issue because if parties in the case are trying to not be judged by the community and the possible jury influenced by the stories printed or broadcasted they have no where to go. They are always being watched, judged, gossiped about.
All this from someone looking to work in the media. I did not say it was perfect. Just like every industry there are portions that need to be worked on. We use the first amendment and such statutes like Freedom of Information in order to obtain information, report the information and use the reason that it is newsworthy. Instead of truly looking at what is newsworthy. Then again that may have something to do with media being a profit business now like most business. Hopefully, this hopeful and others will be a part of a moment where we will see a continuing of growth but also change in our industry.