Australians love true crime. However, in the age of citizen journalism and global media coverage, experts have serious concerns over fairness.
The last few years have seen a spike in true crime investigations in the media. Perhaps the most notable is podcast series The Teacher’s Pet, which clocked more than 28 million downloads as The Australian’s Hedley Thomas looked into the disappearance of Lynette Dawson, a mother from Sydney’s Northern Beaches. In November 2018, the series bagged Thomas a Gold Walkley, the nation’s highest journalistic accolade. In December, Lynette’s husband Chris was arrested and charged with her murder. The 70 year old is currently on bail and will face court later this year.
However, the storm of media coverage surrounding the podcast and the police investigation is raising serious questions over fairness and the presumption of innocence.
Law and prejudice
Dr Tyrone Kirchengast, an associate professor in criminal law at the University of Sydney, says any type of investigative reporting risks some form of prejudice to the defendant.
“We’re talking about unsatisfactorily narrowing the juror pool, in that the potential jurors – members of the public – could lose their objectivity and have a predisposed opinion about a fact in evidence or the guilt or innocence of an accused person, by virtue of there being prolific media coverage,” Kirchengast says.