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Text of an article for the National Victim Support Magazine which appeared in the winter 1998 edition.

 

As we reach the new millennium we are experiencing an unprecedented information explosion whereby news is instantly available to the public in many different formats.

New sources such as satellite and cable and the internet have joined the accepted mediums of television, radio, newspapers and magazines to provide 24-hours a day, seven days a week coverage of news.

This means that there are more and more outlets scrambling for what has to be a limited amount of news. At the same time the Media world has become fiercely competitive with outlets trying desperately to uncover the unusual or exclusive angle.

More people than ever before are finding themselves under the Media microscope and there can be no doubt that the Media can make or break a career, build-up or destroy an individual and even prompt the downfall of governments - such is their power.

I believe that the Media is the singularly most powerful group in society and that their power will continue to increase until such time as the publicís thirst for information abates and people decide that they no longer wish to read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch television or go on-line on their computer. I further argue that this will never happen.

I also firmly believe that the excesses of the Media are a result of the publicís own appetite for news and, at times, sensationalism. The worst excesses of tabloid journalism are carried out simply because what they provide is the staple diet demanded by readers, viewers or listeners.

Victims of major crime will be subjected to the full power of this Media explosion whether they like it or not. Those refusing to undertake interviews or co-operate with the Media will find that the Press do not leave them alone and disappear as I have found out in interviewing victims who wanted to have nothing to do with the Press.

Of course it is not all black. Many victims of crime are happy dealing with the Media and indeed welcome the intrusion into their lives. My research has taught me never to second guess how a person will react to Media interest.

This poses incredible problems for Victim Support volunteers whom I know see their role as carers, supporters and councillors for victims. Many volunteers will never experience a real Media scramble, but some will and I firmly believe that all volunteers should receive training in what to expect from the Media.

They need this training to be able to feel confident about giving advice to victims about dealing with the Media. They may never have to give this advice but it is vitally important that they are prepared.

My research has centred around Norfolk people who have experienced the full brunt of Media activity. These people are all victims of what I would term major crime. For my research my definition of major crime has been:- murder, manslaughter or serious personal or sexual attack.

My working definition of victims has been anybody either directly or indirectly affected by crime. Obviously in the case of murder and manslaughter the direct victims are dead. I therefore define the term in these cases to include immediate members of the dead personís family. These family members are indirect victims as opposed to direct victims who are those subjected to serious attacks but whom are still alive.

Above everything else my research has shown me, and I am sure this will be borne out by VS volunteers, that victims of crime (both major and minor) respond in many different ways. Those that have decided to co-operate with the Media have given a number of different reasons which include the following: ∑ As a memorial to a loved one ∑ To avoid the perpetrator of the crime gaining notoriety, publicity and any justification for his/her crime. ∑ Anger ∑ Safeguarding others from falling into a trap ∑ Keeping control of the situation ∑ Previous positive feelings about the Media ∑ To help with the investigative process

Only rarely have I come across victims not prepared to talk to the Press in some form or other. I firmly believe that people who have taken this path have done so out of a previous in-built dislike of the Media or a bad experience in the past.

I am convinced from my research that those victims who have either co-operated fully or ďput up and dealt withĒ the attention of the Media have come out considerably less traumatised than those victims who have turned their back.

In our modern world I can see no way that victims of serious crime will be able to avoid the attentions of the Media. This is something Victim Support volunteers should be aware of and something they should be able to help the victim to deal with. Ignore them and the Media WILL NOT go away. I am very aware that much of what I have written may sound uncaring, harsh and even mechanical. It is not meant to be. I have, in the past, undertaken counselling work and my one rule with victims and the Media is that the wishes of the victims must always come first.

I would never insist on somebody talking to the Media - the final decision is always theirs. I will of course give advice but I am more than happy if this is disregarded. The victim must at all times be in control of the situation and I see my role as one of education and support.

Norfolk Constabulary prides itself on the support it gives to victims of crime. We work closely with the local branch of Victim Support and have a solid network of family liaison officers who give support to victims and their families.

The Force Press Office in Norfolk provides a service to victims where we offer to support and help them through the trauma of dealing with the Media. This includes giving them information about the Media and what to expect from them. It is a service we are proud of.

I have been privileged to see at first hand the bravery of many victims. Their fortitude and determination to keep control of their lives during the most horrendous ordeals has been a sobering and humbling experience.

I have kept in contact with many of these people long after the Media pressure has subsided and count a number of them now as personal friends.

Many of these victims look upon themselves as members of a very exclusive club, but an exclusive club that nobody wants to be a member of.

Likewise I would love to be in the position of not having to be a guest in this mythical club. I would not wish anybody to have to suffer the heartache and trauma that I have seen victims going through.

But the reality is that murders and attacks will continue. More and more victims will be thrust into the ever enveloping limelight. I see it as my duty to help and support victims and hope that on a professional level I can help them to deal with the Media in the way that they wish to.

© Peter Steward 1999


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