It's the questions on everyone's lips, just as "Dallas" seized the world with "Who Shot JR?" But is the rise of the soap opera trial demeaning the law and is the media to blame? The jury retired today to consider their verdict.
The question on everyone's lips - possibly - is due for an answer shortly as the Scott Guy case draws to a close. Ewen Macdonald's lawyer, Greg King, has been addressing the jury today in his closing.
Just as the soap opera "Dallas" intrigued the world with it's "Who shot JR" line, the Scott Guy case has attracted unprecedented media and public interest.
Described variously as a classic "whodunnit" and as a "real life soap opera" by Ewen Macdonald's lawyer Greg King, the case has attracted massive public interest due, no doubt, to the fact that it involves all the elements of a classic tragedy involving a white, middle class family.
The country today will today be in “Who Shot JR” mode, transfixed by every piece of crime scene evidence in the Scott Guy trial, which even defence counsel Greg King described as a “classic whodunit”. Maybe, maybe not. The personal tragedies of the families involved and the law, it seems, has been superseded by an overarching over-excited media who can’t get enough of the real life soap. The Scott Guy feeding frenzy has been unsated, it would seem. Attempts to enter the public gallery of the court, which would appear to possibly lead to further loss of life, have seen housewives jostling with trial junkies for a coveted seat to watch the tableau of money, jealousy, sex and tragedy unfold as they crane to hear every detail of DNA evidence and family ruction. The case has pushed the media limits of press coverage, largely unimpeded since the 2008 decision in the Fairfax case involved the Dominion Post’s reporting of leaked evidence from the Urewera raids. The Guy case is particularly attractive to the media not so much because it is a “whodunit” necessarily but because it involves a photogenic, relatively wealthy white middle class family and high profile criminal trials have always performed an entertainment role as well, whether the protagonists like it or not. And of course Scott Guy wore a cowboy hat, just like JR. The commentary and enquiries pursued by the media, such as comments about the wife of accused Ewen Macdonald not wearing her wedding ring, the press contacts with family members and the like, have seen the trial reporting boundaries pressed with every morsel of evidence dissected for online and offline public consumption. Every witness in all cases today, in true American style, “takes the stand” and feeds what is a growing appetite for trial news generally. The Guy case has become, in one sense, the ultimate reality TV show for the networks, without the prizes.
While the Fairfax decision has generally emboldened the media regarding contempt issues and opened the door to more intrusive reporting, the question will be whether the doors will become floodgates. I doubt it. It will just be more breathless reporting, usually from young blond ladies, about who “took the stand” on any day.
Greg King, who recently returned from the United States following his receipt of an Eisenhower scholarship which took him about the United States, including meeting with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office in Massachusetts where he appeared in that powerful County’s own cable TV show “Common Ground”. When asked whether the media sensationalized criminal trials, King responded by saying that some media coverage was salacious and sensationalising. “Turning peoples’ misery into soap operas.”