The Criminal Mediascape

Well, we had it coming. We have to admit it. After nine years of squatting in a Balinese prison and pleading for the cameras, Schapelle Corby was released from prison. It’s a historic move for justice, if not for humanity, by finally allowing for the release of a woman proven being innocent-

Oh sorry, wrong meeting.

Why is it that controversy sells better than hard-hitting investigation or ethical conundrums in our news life? The kind of media fervour (like the one above) surrounding these cases is always fascinating in the divide it creates for the crowd.

Let’s look at Schapelle again; a sweet, bubbly and otherwise innocent young woman caught in the hurricane of a drug charge. “It’s not mine, it’s not mine,” she pleads constantly to the Judge. The rallying and public support, on behalf of her family, in an attempt to lighten the sentence. Throw a fragile mental into the mix, and all of this contributes to the mixed image of a saint to the Australian people. It’s only natural that we should find the Schapelle case so compelling, for it resonates. It resonates with the ordinary underdog, the downtrodden, the ones who never got a chance. And the media, with sly jump-cuts and emotionally manipulative by-lines and story headings, can cook up a storm for the people who will accept it without testimony.

Schapelle Corby breaks down upon receiving her sentence. Source: AP

But let’s not be quick to brand people like this as ‘hardened criminals’. After all, we’ve got Chopper Read – described as ‘a local version of an underworld terrorist’, who’s claim to fame is his criminal spree between the 70s and 80s. His death last year incited mixed reception amidst the Australian public, with some even comparing to a modern Ned Kelly. It’s tempting to find part of Read’s story compelling, if not for the slew of claimed killings on his behalf and prison sentences that cloud his supposedly ‘inspiring’ tale. Then, there’s his childhood; a mixture of fundamentalism, brainwashing, abuse and violence that softens our perception of his dubious criminal record.

The irony of it all is that fame and crime work together like partners in crime. Miami was stunned at the sudden case by Derek Medina, who shot his wife and posted his confession to Facebook. More jarring was the line “you will see me in the news” – as if it was premeditated to gain attention or identify himself to the world. Yet Medina’s reasoning left a family destroyed and seeking answers. The hype around Schapelle and Read mostly involved monetary gain and failed to benefit or enrich the public interest.  It also strikes similar chords to the case of Lisa Harnum, who was thrown to her death by then-fiancé Simon Gittany. In the wake of the media coverage of his conviction, Gittany’s girlfriend offered an exclusive interview with Sunday Nightfor a hefty sum and air time.

Rachelle Louise talks with Ross Coulthart on Sunday Night. Source: Channel 7

Hell, let’s just be bold enough to admit it: controversy sells. Part of us will always root for the underdog, criminal or not. It’s nice to know these things happen, or that things will benefit from them, but we love controversy to the point that hundreds of thousands of dollars will be laundered into the modern appropriation of a media circus. Even Ned Kelly, our famed Australian bushranging hero, was a petty criminal by normal standards – and yet we have ballads, stories and tales of his daring endeavours against the corrupt state.