OXFORD MEDIA SOCIETY
Reporting on crimes is part of reporting the news and is often part of the police process for solving the crime. However, crime reporting comes with a unique set of thorny debates and restrictions.
The police and media have come under scrutiny in recent days for their reporting on the Nicola Bulley case, specifically for revealing (seemingly unnecessary) details about her private life and struggles with menopause and alcohol abuse. Bulley’s family have spoken out against this, saying that “there are people out there speculating and threatening to sell stories about her. This is appalling and needs to stop.” The family’s concerns were echoed by Labour frontbencher Yvette Cooper: “I am very worried about the nature of the social media speculation and frenzy that there has been around this case.” All this comes alongside legal concerns about police procedure (there will be an independent enquiry) and how a case with this much publicity then sees a fair and proper trial.
This links into a wider debate that goes beyond just journalism and into TV, film, podcasts, books and more. These mediums and the layers of production can provide a degree removal from the fact that these cases are real, allowing viewers to get lost in the story and forget the real-life victims and their families. For example, with Netflix’s Dahmer, the victims’ families were not made aware of the show or asked for consent. Eric Perry, cousin to Dahmer victim Errol Lindsey tweeted that “they don’t notify families when they do this. It’s all public record, so they don’t have to notify (or pay!) anyone.” He also called the series “retraumatising”.
So true crime cases are a legitimate subject of journalism, documentaries and fictionalised media, it seems all too easy to take it too far and stray into both moral and legal complications. As true crime is on the rise as a genre we must be alert to these issues as both producer and consumer of crime content, remembering first and foremost that the subjects of these pieces are real humans with real loved ones who are grieving and seeking justice.
The Guardian: What coverage of Nicola Bulley, Emma Pattison and Brianna Ghey tells us about an out-of-control media
Netflix: Trial by Media: The Truth Behind Crimes
CNN: True crime sells, but fans are debating the ethics of their passion