January 7, 2010
The Whaleoil saga [background here and here] has led me to consider why the issue of name suppression for so-called celebrities (or more generally people with an already existing public profile/reputation) gets people so worked up.
There was a shared feeling of outrage when a semi-famous Kiwi “entertainer” was allowed permanent name suppression after pleading guilty to the sexual assault of a young woman and there were some demented folk exhibiting very vigilante-like tendencies when Whaleoil outed*** a former Kiwi Olympian previously convicted of a serious crime who was before the courts on further serious charges.
Now Whaleoil himself is before the courts charged with several counts of breaching suppression orders and identifying people subject to a name suppression order. But why is he taking on this crusade?
I came across some answers in a journal article from Crime, Media, Culture, which is published by Sage. The piece, “Naming, shaming and criminal justice: Mass-mediated humiliation as entertainment and punishment”, was written by Steven Kohm from the University of Winnipeg. I can’t link to the article from here as that would breach copyright and the fair access policy of AUT library. However, you can get links from Google Scholar and elsewhere.
The key arguments are as follows:
Shame is a dubious method of applying “justice” to criminals and since the advent of reality TV and forensic porn as entertainment, humiliation as a tool of social control has been amplified through the mass media – and more recently via social media – as a method of both punishment and as a form of voyeuristic and participatory entertainment.
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April 20, 2007
On Thursday night I saw some of the footage of Cho Seung-Hui’s gruesome death video. It had been aired by the NBC network in the USA and, of course, picked up and screened right around the world.
There was not any type of warning on the network news I saw and it was right in the middle of so-called “family viewing” time. Was it necessary to air so much of the tape in which Cho makes it clear he’s going to do something violent, reads his crazed prose and poetry and poses with the handguns he’d recently purchased.
The language of the reporter covering the story was just as violent, it’s what I have begun to call “forensic pornography”. It’s the type of stuff you see in the fictional cop shows, particularly those that feature sexual violence against women as the “crime” that’s being “solved”.
This is exactly how NBC and its affiliated website , MSNBC is covering the story. Here’s an image from their cover piece on the tape and the massacre, a profile of the killer that glorifies what he did in a very sick way.
There are nine clips and a “slide show” of still images from the video uploaded onto the MSNBC website.
This is making Cho out to be some kind of psychopathic hero.
Where’s the empathy for the victims, families and friends. Do they need to have this grisly reminder and “trophy” gloat tape pushed in their faces?
What were the ethical thinking and decision-making principles in the NBC newsroom that led them to think it was a good idea to use this tape in this way?
Perhaps some of the comments posted on the MSNBC viewer/reader pages are an indication.
The overwhelming line is that banning hand guns won’t work, the old “guns don’t kill people, people do” line and some weird religious shit about the fact that “God” won’t tolerate this -“the end is nigh” doomsdayism. So perhaps the audience isn’t very capable of discerning judgment and NBC is pandering to some awful voyeuristic tendencies in its key market demographic.
Interestingly NBC has defended its decision in a statement sent to the Poynter Institute, which is also hosting an extended discussion of this topic: to show or not show the footage. One TV network, affiliated to NBC decided to not show the footage or stills from the tape, or to play the audio.
In my view there are ways to deal with this story that do not involve glorifying a mass murderer who was obviously psychotic. I’m very worried that there could be possible copycat killers out there who are getting off on this material and could become just as unstable.
I also think that in terms of grief reporting that it is just adding to the pain of the survivors, friends and families of the deceased.