Media: Platform

Had a British businessman been lucky enough to get 10 minutes of prime news time, he might not have spent the past 10 years on Death Row. His case could wind up a miscarriage of justice so extreme it will put Ms Woodward's in the shade.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
A couple of months ago if you mentioned Louise Woodward, no one outside of her home town would have recognised the name. Yet, when her guilty verdict was announced, British television carried it live as a special report.

Later, 10 minutes of the BBC's main bulletins were devoted to the verdict, as well as considerable air time to the trial judge's ruling on her sentence. The story was front-page news for two weeks in the print media. And just see what happens when Judge Zobel posts his ruling today.

Had British businessman Krishna Maharaj been lucky enough to get 10 minutes of prime news time several days in a row he may not have spent the past 10 years on Death Row in a Florida prison. He's awaiting execution for the murder of two men ... murder convictions that now look so shaky, his case could wind up a miscarriage of justice so extreme, it will put Ms. Woodward's in the shade.

Detective writer Mickey Spillane couldn't have written a better plot. A wealthy British man on a routine business trip to Miami gets caught in an underworld scam, is set up and framed for murder. With no little media attention, his survival on Death Row is due mainly to the work of his English attorney.

A great news story? Yes, if you're a teenager, yes if you're a woman and yes if you're a WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant). Since Maharaj misses out on all these categories, he's just another of the Cuban-looking guys that have filled Miami's jails in recent years.

The Louise Woodward case is a prime example of media-generated hype, led by television and followed by newspapers. The Sun's "Free Louise" campaign was launched within hours of the verdict. What may begin as a newsy story eventually snowballs out of proportion to its importance, ensnaring people by the interest of a real-life soap opera rather than news value.

While hype of this sort seems to have sprung only recently from the pure greed of America's hotly contested corporate-based media system, it in fact also endemic to Britain.

America has long followed the Rupert Murdoch populist criterion for journalism: give the people what they want. But now, with television, radio and many newspapers part and parcel of entertainment conglomerates, the historic idea of a free press, while continually bandied about by sanctimonious editors at after dinner speeches, is in reality fast giving way to a controlled press ... controlled by market forces ... controlled by advertisers and network executives who are trying to sell news by hyping it.

In short, it's no longer good enough giving Americans the news they want to have or should have. More and more, they are being given news that's advertiser-friendly, carrying the potential for greater and greater audiences. By repetitive use of a story the media can transcend the world of news to the realm of show business. And another soap opera is born.

The writer is an American journalist based in London.