Back in January I did a post about a news story that was bothering me: journalists were writing articles about “a convicted child sex offender” who was missing in a desert area in Western Australia with an eight-year-old girl from a remote Aboriginal community. The pair had gone hunting and become lost; there was a police search which was reported nationwide; and a few days later they were found, but the child was badly dehydrated and could not be revived, and she died.
At the time, most of the articles seemed to be suggesting that the man had kidnapped the child, and he was, as they said, repeatedly, “a convicted child sex offender”. And one journalist even added that the girl’s foster mother had once taken a baby from a Perth maternity hospital (a crime for which she was given a suspended sentence – which to me suggests the woman might have been ill, not malicious, but that’s just a guess).
The eight-year-old Aboriginal girl who died from severe dehydration in Western Australia’s eastern Goldfields desert had been moved from home to home, eventually landing with a convicted child snatcher and a child sex offender.
– Aja Styles, Girl’s life ends tragically in the care of a baby-snatcher, WAtoday, 05 January 2012
Today the ABC updated the story: an autopsy has found that the child had not been sexually assaulted.
[The man] has been fined $2,000 for firearms offences and he has received a traffic infringement but police say it is unlikely he will face further charges.
– David Weber, Man to face tribal punishment over desert death, ABC News, 04 February 2012
As far as I could find in a quick internet search, only two news organisations updated the story: the ABC, in that article linked above, and, a few days ago, The West Australian.
Lots of journalists pounced on the initial story and insinuated the man was guilty of sex crimes. How is it they can trash a person’s reputation (and not just the man’s, but the foster mother’s also), and then not be charged with something – being a public nuisance, say? Shouldn’t there be a law saying they should follow up the story to report the outcome i.e. that the man was innocent?
Now, here’s a second part to this post, mostly unrelated to the first. I started wondering about values and our systems of law – questions sparked by that ABC story. Did you notice the headline? Man to face tribal punishment over girl’s death.
Tribal punishment. From the link above:
“My uncle told me you know, even if you go back to Laverton or something and the family see you there, let ’em hit you. Give them some satisfaction that you know, you’ve been punished.”
[The man] says he is prepared to be beaten by the girl’s family.
“Well if I’ve got to sit down in a flat and get a hiding, yes. I’ve never seen no one get speared or anything, I’ve only seen people just get a hiding and that, you know with the family members and that. So hopefully that’s what can happen with me,” he said.
In a non-Aboriginal scenario, if a group of people ganged up on someone and beat him up, they could correctly be charged with assault. And I don’t see how it’s okay and legal if it occurs in a different culture. Why is it wrong in one culture, but right in another? What’s pushing those differences?
Maybe the law is intended to sanction what is culturally approved and punish what is not. That seems to be what it does, anyway; I don’t know if that’s what it’s supposed to do.
I think it would be better to base laws on more universal values – things which are held dear by all cultures. But maybe there aren’t any of those. Are there? I don’t know.
I’m assuming that all humans are basically the same underneath our external differences. But is that true or just one of my own culture’s notions? Maybe cultural differences run right through us; maybe every part of us is somehow shaped by culture – even bodies. Maybe there’s nothing universal in being a human.
I don’t know. I just think it’s interesting and horrifying that the laws of two cultures in the same country can be so different, as though they have no parts of their foundations in common.
Anyway, getting back to the other, first, point of this post: when an innocent person is trampled by dumb journalists, I think those dumb journalists should have to apologise. In this case, they didn’t; and that makes me despise them.