While it is a given that the media plays a large role in many large and small court cases, it can be argued whether this role is positive or negative. As journalism has become more relevant in the past few decades, we must reevaluate the media’s effect on those involved in court cases. Being informed on this issue will help the public to encourage ethical reporting by journalists and media outlets.
For many people, the news is their main source of information. This is where they hear about what is going on in our country and throughout the world and using this information to form opinions and take action as needed. For this reason, Journalism and the media have a huge effect on the public. In 1995, the American public was shocked to learn that Nicole Brown, the former wife of NFL player and actor O.J. Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman had been murdered, and they’re beloved Heisman trophy winner was a suspect. The media was immediately involved in the case before Simpson was ever on trial.
Leading up to O.J. Simpson’s trial, Judge Lance A. Ito, who presided over this case, threatened to cut off all media coverage. The Windsor Star reported on September 24, 1994, that Judge Ito was “furious over what he termed “the continuing problem of the dissemination in the news media of erroneous information.” (Scripps 1994) He “lashed into” another report involving a pair of socks supposedly being found in Simpson’s bedroom with Nicole’s blood on it, calling it “completely false.” (Scripps 1994) Simpson’s lead counsel at the time, Bob Shapiro, stated that the media affected Simpson’s right to a fair trial because the media had such a great effect on the public’s view of the case. The People V. Simpson is still relevant in the media and talked about by many, as it has changed the American people’s view on celebrities, racism, and justice.
The second and perhaps most important party that can be effected is the victim. There are many times that the media uses the exploitation of a victim’s story to gain viewership from a sympathetic audience. However, we often see the media honoring victims of terrible crimes and, in the case of death, remembering them and sharing their legacy. Either of these may have a psychological effect on the victims and their families. In 2006, Maercker & Mehr preformed a study on the relation between PTSD in crime victims and media coverage. Maercker & Mehr began their study looking into the effect of media coverage on victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They reported that “while it seems clear that the media has some effect on PTSD symptoms, there appear to be individual differences in reactions to media coverage of traumatic events. No evidence has been found to suggest any positive effects of media coverage on viewers.” (Fusco 2011)
News Media and the law reports that in 2012, “South Bend Tribune Editors learned that an Indiana appeals court had granted a request from a state agency to prevent publication of information” regarding an ongoing investigation on the abuse, and torture and murder of a 10-year-old boy. Executive editor of the newspaper was given the choice to either take down his report containing the information, or be “faced with the threat of contempt of court.” (Rasmussen 2012) While it cannot be scientifically proven that the media has a direct effect on PTSD symptoms in crime victims, many still believe that there is a certain point to which the media should not have the right to publicize certain details.
In conclusion, the media has both negative and positive effects on court cases, their victims, and the public. Because of the vital role that the media plays in these cases, journalists cannot ignore these issues. The public must be informed. However, it is important that the public be informed in a way that is neither detrimental to the victims, or to the public itself. The American public must rely on the ethical reporting by media sources and discourage anything other than the truth being reported.
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