University Of Tasmania
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The Age of consent : news, crime and public debate

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:17 authored by Konkes, CM
In 2009 in Hobart, Australia, a 12-­year-­old ward of the state was advertised in a metropolitan newspaper as an 18-­year-­old prostitute. The decision to only prosecute one of the 100-­plus men estimated to have paid for sex with the child was a scandal that made national headlines. Sustained coverage over the next two years was notable for its representation of community outrage, which included allegations of a cover up involving the highest levels of government and the judiciary. This thesis is both an examination of the news coverage of the controversy and an attempt to theoretically understand the relationship between contemporary journalistic practice, representations of crime and mediatised controversy. Using a methodology that draws on content and frame analysis of news and other texts, and interviews with journalists and their sources, this study seeks to identify the point at which socially useful news coverage of complex legal matters tips into panic (McNair 2006). This investigation examines how Tasmanian media framed the coverage of this matter; how journalist-­source relationship informed the coverage; and what journalistic practices and communications strategies contributed to the sense of confusion and distrust that informed the controversy. Its key findings demonstrate the extent to which ideas of news values are both fluid and an important factor in how journalists and their sources identify opportunities for news making, that news coverage and news framing is significantly dependent on the sponsorship of sources, and that these relationships, combined with the communications strategies of government, the judiciary and other actors, contributed to the apparent politicisation and outrage. The capacity of journalism to contribute to democratic deliberation at a time of radical change is currently under scrutiny. The findings of this investigation provide a nuanced observation of the extent to which the source-­journalist relationship determines the quality of reporting and public debate.


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