Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Melbourne schoolboy pulls the wool over the entire Channel 7 legal department?

Channel 7’s decision to broadcast the identity of a 16 year old (15 at the time) victim of child sexual abuse – admittedly with the boy’s consent – is frankly bizarre. I am not aware just how many promotions for “Today Tonight” showing the boy’s face aired, but there was definitely one during the Melbourne news ad-break of about 6.15 pm – I remember the time because my jaw dropped while watching it.

When the boy’s face turned out after all to be pixellated on the actual show a few minutes later, my sense of a big boo-boo (to use the technical legal term) on the part of Channel 7 solidified.

Seven’s error has little, if anything, to do with the sub judice aspects of the case. There have been plenty of precedents for no-holds-barred media coverage of matters to do with post-verdict, but pre-sentence, court cases.

Rather, the error lies in identifying a child sexual abuse victim. At 16, I don’t see how the boy could give a legally effective waiver of his normal legal rights here (unlike, say, an adult rape victim).

I accept that the boy freely and sincerely wanted to be identified on the show. But that’s simply his palpably-naïve way of coping with what happened to him – that is to say, part of a pattern of emotional regression (he is currently estranged from his family) that often flows from child sexual abuse.

While certainly on the basis of age, the Melbourne boy has to be considered as less damaged a victim than Vili Fualaau (12 years old at the time), I’m troubled by the similarities between the two cases. Prurient media interest has immensely complicated Vili Fualaau’s transition into sane adulthood. For Channel 7 to now exploit a boy’s fighting, but inwardly hollow, emotional bravado is gutter-scraping for ratings.

“In years to come I'll probably have a laugh at it" quoth the boy last night. Apart from what the law says, it was Channel 7’s responsibility, as in loco parentis (/big-brotheris?), to have had a psychologist to sit down with the boy after the interview and say what needed to be said: “We’d be happy to interview you – this time, for broadcast – when such a year does come; in the mean time, good luck with becoming a well-adjusted young man – on which point trust us, the temporary buzz you would have got from being known as that cool teacher-shagging kid would inevitably turn into a millstone of Gary Coleman proportions”.

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