It has been almost three months since the Sydney hostage crises took place in Martin Place on December 15 and 16. What, if anything, can be taken from such abhorrent events in our city? Ellen Kirkpatrick critiques media coverage of the event and Tony Zhang reports on the potential impact the siege may have on NSW bail laws.
When the media gets it wrong
WORDS by Ellen Kirkpatrick
The recent events in Sydney’s Martin Place in December 2014 brought the nation to a standstill. 13 hostages taken by lone gunman, Man Haron Monis, was a shocking disruption to the daily routine of Sydneysiders. Images of terrified hostages holding a black flag with Arabic text against the Lindt Café window sent chills across the nation and world. The media was quick to report on this breaking incident which is, rightfully, a democratic privilege. However, some of the media attention negatively and inaccurately reported on the Sydney siege which has the potential to trigger increased Islamaphobia against the Muslim community of Australia.
Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph ran a front page wraparound headlined ‘Death Cult CBD Attack’ and claimed that IS (Islamic State) had taken hostages. This is one of the more obvious cases of sensationalist reporting on the siege, further supported by Murdoch’s insensitive tweet congratulating his journalists for capturing the ‘bloody outcome’ of events.
While Monis claimed association with Islam, he had never received support from the Australian Muslim community and had not been a political or religious activist in Iran. In fact, he was an internationally published poet and only became politically motivated upon arrival in Australia. At the time of the siege, Monis was on bail for being charged as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, forty charges of sexual assault and was also still engaged in legal battles over a hate-mail campaign. Still, the media was quick to blame the actions of an unstable criminal on the Muslim community and Islam itself.
The media captured images of the black flag in order to manipulate the reality of events in Martin Place to their advantage. The text on the flag was the Shahada, a common statement of faith among Muslims, which translates to “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the messenger of God”. However, the ‘Black Standard’ design of the flag has been used by fundamentalists and extremists to represent a rejection of society and the West as well as Muslims living in a non-Islamic state. Clearly, this flag does not represent the beliefs and practices of Islam yet it was used to point blame on a specific group of people.
This extreme interpretation of Islam, which unfortunately receives so much media attention, is detrimental to fostering the spirit of multiculturalism and acceptance in Australia. The Muslim community is a substantial and valuable part of the nation. Ali Mamouri wrote in The Conversation that ‘Muslims must not be blamed for a group of criminals and psychopaths’. They need more support and cooperation from both the Government and society as they are not organised to deal with criminals or extremists, such as Monis, who associate themselves with Islam.
The Sydney Siege should not provoke fears of terrorism throughout the nation despite media incentives. Negative, sensationalised and initial risky reporting has the potential to cause great damage to the cohesiveness of Australian society. The headline used by The Courier Mail, ‘Jihadi terrorist strikes Australia’s heart’ has no grounding in reasonable fact and directs the blame to an already victimised group of people.
The response of the Australian population to the Sydney siege has been positive. The success of the #illridewithyou campaign has demonstrated the characterising features of Australian society through solidarity, support and mateship. However, it remains both unprofessional and unacceptable for media outlets to inaccurately report on events. The outcome can be incredibly detrimental and may damage the multicultural spirit of Australia.
“Sydney Siege” prompts calls for tougher bail laws
WORDS by Tony Zhang
In the aftermath of what the media has dubbed the “Sydney Siege,” public debate concerning NSW bail laws has reignited, with the case for an increased tightening of the Bail Act provisions being put forward by state politicians.
Questions are being asked as to how the perpetrator Man Haron Monis, a violent individual who has faced court on numerous charges, including some for violent offences, was able to walk the streets. A coronial inquest into the circumstances surrounding the event and Monis’ criminal history is now underway.
Calls for tougher bail laws come at a time of heightened public sensitivity over the release of several notorious criminals convicted for violent offences. On May 20th 2014 the state government introduced sweeping changes to bail laws which crucially included the removal of the presumption against bail for a string of violent offences.
This paved the way for the granting of bail to alleged wife killer Steven Frank Fesus and the release of Mahmoud Hawi, the man responsible for the Sydney Airport murder, prompting a media-fuelled public backlash that subsequently saw the government reverse course on its bail law changes after just one month. In September 2014 a second round of reforms aimed at making it more difficult for people charged with serious offences to be given bail passed NSW parliament. These reforms were originally due to take effect on January 28th, 2015.
Since the siege, it has emerged that Monis was last granted bail on May 26th 2014, a mere six days after the earlier reforms came into effect. NSW Attorney-General Brad Hazzard believes that Monis would have been remanded in custody had the stricter bail laws taken effect earlier and is frustrated at the time it has taken for the changes to come into force. “This government changed the Bail Act to ensure greater safety for our community,” he said. “It was changed to ensure that offenders involved in serious crime will not get bail. That’s our intent. This offender was granted bail under a previous legislation, in fact under two previous bail acts.”
However, former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdrey argues that even if the amendments to the Bail Act passed in September were brought forward sooner it wouldn’t have necessarily prevented Monis from walking free on bail. Rather, he believes that had the NSW criminal justice system been better resourced Monis would not have been granted 12 months bail pending court hearings of his matters and that it would have been “highly unlikely” for Monis to have perpetrated the siege.
The NSW Bail Act as it currently stands features some of the toughest measures ever adopted in the state’s history. These include, among others the reversal of the time-honoured presumption of innocence for accused individuals as they await a court to hear their charges as well as the imposition of a new onus of proof on people accused of serious offences such as murder and child sexual assault to establish to a court why they should get bail. Opposition to any further tightening of the bail provisions stems from members of the legal community who are concerned that the bail laws already undermine fundamental legal rights and freedoms and any additional changes to the laws will only further erode civil liberties.
Yet the state government is facing pressure to enact even stronger bail laws in the wake of the siege and to expedite tougher measures in the wake of the Martin Place incident. A petition on Change.Org has managed to accumulate more than 42,000 signatures within a single day, evidencing strong public interest in the issue.