Media and the Law (United Kingdom): Thesis Extract II

(Part two from my thesis, find part one here. This time with the section on the UK. I did look at a few cases but I'm only sharing what I wrote about the killing of 3-yearold Jamie Bulger, its the most interesting. The two images are the actual mug-shots of the defendants that were splashed in the papers after their conviction)


The Jamie Bulger Murder: T v United Kingdom and V v United Kingdom

The murder of 3 year old James Bulger by 10 year olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables was ever parents’ worst nightmare being played out live before their eyes. The media documented the case for the public and it was obsessively followed. The case which played out against a backdrop of already heightening fear of child criminals and the inability to rehabilitate them – ended up having a profound detrimental effect on the juvenile justice system. It raises even more concerning question of how the media portrays these young criminals and holds much relevance in today’s society when the children are accused of being increasingly prone to committing violent acts thanks to media images.

In 1993, James Bulger disappeared from the Liverpool shopping center when his mother turned her back for a split second. CCTV footage later showed the child being led away by two boys, (later identified as Thompson and Venables) and his mutilated body was found on a railway track . The boys were charged with the murder and the media vilified the boys with tabloid papers like the Daily Star running the story with the headline ‘How do you feel now you little bastards?” . Later analysis of this sensation has condemned the media representation of this issue as “undiluted, vitriolic editorializing” .

In 2010 Venables was send to prison for “extremely serious allegations” which later were claimed by The Sun to be charges for child pornography . Subsequent media reports questioned the handling of the defendants by both the government and media – questioning if both had contributed negatively to what had become of the boys . They questioned how fair it was to dismiss the possibility that rehabilitation could work – and whether the children could ever be released . The BBC explored this issue extensively in a documentary titled ‘Jon Venables: What Went Wrong?” and questioned the handling of the issues by not only the media, but the public and authorities as well.

This case served to show how easily the media can help in getting the public emotionally involved in a case – with assistance from the police. The CCTV footage of the victim being led away was widely portrayed, and after the defendants conviction their names were released – forcing the families to flee the area. It became taboo to show sympathy or even attempt to begin understanding what could have prompted two young children to perform such a horrific crime.

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