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Abstract

This paper examines the role of media in publicising the names of people who receive a non-conviction for a minor crime. It positions the news media’s ability to “name and shame” people who appear before the courts as a powerful cultural practice, rather than adopt a widely celebrated Fourth Estate view of the press as a watchdog on the judicial process. The research draws on interviews conducted in two regional centres of Victoria, Australia, with those involved in news coverage of very minor crimes where non-convictions were imposed. Their spoken words reveal a range of tensions linked to reporting non-convictions in the digital age. In the eyes of the law, a non-conviction means that an offender has an opportunity to rehabilitate away from the public gaze. However, the news media ‘s ability to name such offenders online has the potential to impose a lasting “mark of shame” in digital space that can prevent them gaining employment or housing, and damage their social standing and relationships. We live in a media-saturated culture in which the vast majority of people rely on news media for information about judicial proceedings and in turn, the news media constructs public understanding of the law through the way it represents crime and court processes. This paper argues that traditional understanding of the nexus between the judicial system and the Fourth Estate fails to acknowledge the news media’s considerable power outside the officially recognised operation of the open justice relationship, and that this deserves attention in the digital age.