The whole story: Intimate partner homicides, legal rules and the news production process
AffiliationMelbourne Law School
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2022-12-04.
© 2020 Annie Blatchford
Feminist empirical work criticises the media for presenting violence against women (‘VAW’) and, in particular, intimate partner homicides (‘IPHs’) as isolated incidents disconnected from the broader social problem. This representation occurs despite the reality that IPHs, more than any other crime, typically arise out of a history of controlling, violent behaviour and in an environment where gender inequality is ingrained in social, cultural and organisational structures and practices. However, what has not been adequately considered in these critiques is the question of how legal rules, processes and restrictions impact the media’s ability to contextualise individual IPHs. This is the overarching question of my thesis which I respond to by adopting an interdisciplinary approach, integrating feminist socio-legal and media perspectives into an analysis of a criminal trial, media coverage of the trial and the news production process. The main focus of this research is the impact of the law sub judice contempt which prevents the reporting of prejudicial or extraneous material while legal proceedings are on foot, and the legislative restriction on reporting family violence intervention orders. I also consider the impact of legal rules and processes which first shape the legal narrative told in court. Employing the methods of court observation, journalist interviews, content analysis and a case study, the thesis aims to understand how the law contributes to the media’s problematic reporting practices or, alternatively, how the media could do better. The findings to emerge from the empirical evidence demonstrate how the law acts as an initial filter on the raw material available to journalists to report, significantly filtering information about prior violence and social context from the IPH narrative. The media’s ability to report prior violence and social context is also directly impacted by publication restrictions that constrain what can and cannot be reported. In turn, these publication restrictions are vague and uncertain, leading to inconsistent approaches by the media. Also demonstrated is the way news values, journalistic practices and the current media landscape, in which we are seeing fewer dedicated court reporters, contribute to the problematic reporting of IPHs. Despite these constraints, my thesis provides evidence of good practice journalism and opportunities for the media to do better. Recommendations include reform of sub judice contempt to ensure greater clarity and consistency in its operation, and legislative amendments to the restriction on reporting intervention orders when a domestic violence victim has been murdered. Any changes to the law must also be supported by education of journalists in both the relevant law and VAW. More certainty in how IPHs can be reported could see to increased coverage of individual IPHs that (legally) highlights the broader social context surrounding the incident and society’s role in preventing VAW. Finally, my thesis recommends future research to address other elements of this problem that fall outside the scope of my thesis and to help pave the way for more ethical, accurate and effective media reporting of VAW.
KeywordsMedia law; Media representations; News production; Journalism; Court reporting; Sub judice contempt; Violence against women; Domestic homicides; Domestic violence; Family violence; Intimate partner homicides; Legal narratives
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