In an ideal world, media outlets would act as a mirror that reflects society back at itself and gives us much-needed opportunities to examine our actions, attitudes and beliefs. A societal “self-crit”, if you will.
In reality, however, the news media often performs that examination itself, giving viewers and readers pre-packaged ideas about topics most of us won’t research past the headlines.
This potentially polarising approach is particularly problematic when it comes to one topic that most news publications and current affairs programs never get tired of covering: Compensation.
When it comes to portraying “compo” claimants, there seems to be no middle ground in Australia: You’re either a blameless victim or a shameless opportunist.
Blameless Victims: Genuine, Deserving Claimants
The Australian media, and in turn the Australian public, tends to see some groups of people as blameless victims.
These groups include:
- Victims of violent crime and sexual abuse
- Customers who have been wronged by a huge corporation and;
- “Battlers” who have had their rights flouted by the government (The Castle, anyone?).
While it’s easy to sympathise with these groups, there can be unintended consequences when media outlets act as advocates:
- Emphasis on any accusations before of an official verdict is reached can cause the public to make unfounded judgements about people who may later be proven to be innocent. If claims against someone are later found to be unsubstantiated, the damage the media can do to their reputation often lasts a lifetime.
- Sometimes the victim’s right to privacy is flouted in favour of the public’s right to know. Even if a compensation claimant is portrayed favourably, the media attention they receive can negatively impact their lives.
- The media’s tendency to publicise only the most salacious cases may leave people who have a legitimate but not necessarily newsworthy claim to feel as though they aren’t injured enough to seek payment.
Shameless Gold Diggers: Opportunists Looking for Quick Cash
While some compensation claimants can do no wrong in the eyes of the media, many people who make a claim find themselves in the limelight in all the wrong ways.
Claimants the media portrays as shameless opportunists include:
- Slip, trip & fall claimants who are injured while going about their daily lives
- Businesses seeking recompense after being adversely affected by government policy
- Celebrities pursuing large claims
- Stories about these groups often have less sympathy for a claimant and more of a focus on how large a claim is, how the victim’s suffering could be their own fault, or how ridiculous the premise of a claim may be.
These interpretations, while sometimes valid, have problems of their own:
- Framing the process of seeking compensation for a public injury in a negative light can make people who are entitled to claim feel too ashamed to act.
- Focussing on celebrity cases, such as Rebel Wilson’s defamation lawsuit, can perpetuate inaccurate assumptions about who Australia’s laws are designed to protect. The majority of defamation cases in Australia aren’t pursued against media publishers; they’re between everyday people.
- Publicity surrounding corporate claims often perpetuates ignorance of what compensation is and how it works, neglecting many of the nuances involved in commercial litigation.
- When it comes to compensation, many Australians have an understanding of the law that is based entirely on media representations of cases. But, these representations can be inaccurate, biased, incomplete or oversimplified, and as such are not an ideal resource for anyone who needs legal information.
In our next blog “Contextualising Compensation: What You Need to Know About Claiming” we fill in the gaps so that whether you’re considering making a claim or you’re just reading about someone else’s case, you’ll be well informed.
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