Dingo media? The persistence of the “trial by media” frame in popular, media, and academic evaluations of the Azaria Chamberlain case

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Feminist Media Studies, 2017, 17 (3), pp. 392 - 411
Issue Date:
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© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. In the bulk of popular, media, and scholarly discourse on Azaria Chamberlain’s disappearance there is overwhelming consensus that the sensationalist reporting of the event convicted parents Michael and Lindy of their daughter’s murder outside official court processes. In feminist scholarship in particular, the infant’s disappearance in August 1980 has been read according to a “trial by media” frame. This frame persists despite altered perspectives about the role of the Australian public whose punitive and collectively hostile response to a media-driven hysteria has been replaced with the portrait of a kinder and more compassionate nation. The objectives of this article are threefold: to demonstrate the persistence of the trial by media frame in popular, media, and academic discourse; to consider assumptions of a monolithic and hostile media; and by examining a previously unanalysed archive to suggest that these arguments overlook the existence of sympathetic voices in mainstream media as well as the dialogic connection between media and counter-publics mutually supporting the Chamberlains’ bid for innocence. This research offers an alternative view to scholarship on a landmark event in Australian history and has broader implications for the way we view the media in trial by media situations.
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