The question of crime: How much does the public have the right to know?
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The public right to know is of particular significance when considering the reporting of crime and criminal justice. The internet has demonstrated strong influences upon crime reporting in mainstream media, including the range of material it provides to audiences. In addition, the internet has exposed journalists to new legal and ethical ramifications that accompany reportage on an international scale and, while it may be 'giving the people what they want', it has also exacerbated the controversy surrounding the perennial question of how much the public has a right to know. Research suggests that giving online readers what they want in the context of crime reporting includes the transition to shorter, more concise stories at first point of access, with further background and detail available through links to multi-media facilities. Often these offer far more graphic detail and specificity than is available in mainstream media, bringing the audience closer to the scene of the crime and the people involved. This is reopening the argument of the right to know versus the desire for privacy. These developments raise questions about the level of gatekeeping that is applied to internet coverage of crime. Analysis of media reporting on the disappearance in May 2007 of British toddler Madeleine McCann has shown how online access has raised an increasing number of ethical and legal issues relevant to the question of whether giving audiences what they want can conflict with what the public have a right to know. This article examines how the internet has influenced crime reporting and gatekeeping online.
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