Last Friday, a Central Victorian teenager (19 y.o) was sentenced to 18 months in a youth justice centre for being involved in 3 high-speed pursuits in the past 18 months, a sensitive issue in Bendigo given our ‘hoon capital’ status. At this point, you are probably looking for a hyperlink to the news article in which I found this information, but I’m not going to give to it to you.

I’m not going to give it to you because this post is not about the rightness of the sentence (the young man is obviously a danger to others) but about the media’s role. The newspaper is tabloid-sized, and this story completely covered the front page with a photo of the man, plus his name in the headline. I realise that, given he is 18 and had pleaded guilty, his face and name can be published. The newspaper acted legally, but did they act ethically?

As we go beyond the headlines, we find that this man’s father was killed in a car accident 10 years ago. Suddenly he transforms in our eyes from a 19 year old hoon to a 9 year old boy discovering his father is no longer alive. Any superficial study of youth development tells us that parents, particularly fathers, are key to a young boy becoming a responsible adult. A $65,000 payout from the TAC was put in a trust fund after this accident. At age 18, the boy promptly wasted it in a predictable stream of prodigality. I think we can confidently assume that this boy has not had the opportunity to develop in a healthy way.

This newspaper’s actions are unethical. There is no public benefit served in publishing this story in this way.  There is no benefit to the man found guilty. There is no deterrent effect, because any other so-called ‘hoon’ will see this as a special case because of his father’s death. The only effect is to stir up ill-feeling towards young people. Of course, this is not an isolated occurrence in the media. Young people doing stupid & criminal things are constantly in the news. In youth and social work this is called a ‘deficit approach’, in which the media chooses to highlight negative characteristics of young people. On page 13 of the same newspaper, Father Chris Riley (right) from Youth off the Streets spoke to 300 young people about leadership and character….putting that on the front page would have been fantastic.

Publishing this story is legitimate, but allow an obviously damaged young person the privacy needed to rehabilitate.