Lehrmann Trial – Media Watch


But now on to the trial that kept the media in suspense:

ISABELLE MULLEN: The hearing resumed around ten o’clock this morning. We didn’t know if there would be a verdict or a question, it was a question, they were asking for more time, telling Chief Justice Lucy McCallum that they were unable to reach a verdict at the beyond a reasonable doubt…

…they were told they could take all the time they needed.

– Seven Morning News, October 24, 2022

After 12 days of evidence, we still have no verdict in the trial of former political staffer Bruce Lehrmann, who denies raping his former colleague Brittany Higgins in Canberra’s Parliament nearly four years ago.

And for the past two weeks, TV channels have been broadcasting updates 24 hours a day:

ISABELLE MULLEN: Well Brittany Higgins is back at the helm this morning…

– Seven Morning News, October 6, 2022

HARRY FROST: On the fourth day of this trial and Ms Higgins faced further cross-examination…

– ABC news channel, October 7, 2022

LAUREN TOMASI: …this jury of 12 – eight women and four men – retired to deliberate at two minutes to three this afternoon.

– Nine News (Sydney), October 19, 2022

And of course, they searched for these favorite shots – the bombshell and the twist:

MELISSA DOWNES: Explosive evidence in Brittany Higgins rape trial…

– Nine News (Brisbane), October 14, 2022

PETER MITCHELL: Brittany Higgins in a courtship twist…

– Seven News (Melbourne), October 10, 2022

Newspapers also made headlines for him, with some truly shocking headlines, like this one in the Adelaide Advertiser after Higgins’ last day of giving evidence:


– The Advertiser, October 15, 2022

Yeah, the advertiser’s masterminds thought it would be fun to put a rape pun on their front page.

And what did the experts think? Not a lot.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young tweeted The Advertiser to complain:

Rape is no joke for stupid puns and pathetic headlines. Do better.

-Twitter, @sarahinthesen8, October 15, 2022

And Labor politician Justin Hanson made a similar point in state parliament:

JUSTIN HANSON: There’s a real human and, most likely, a few real humans who looked at this title and thought, “yeah, that’ll be fine.”

– Parliament of South Australia, 19 October 2022

Inside the Tiser, and syndicated to other News Corp papers, were four more pages of puny headlines and salacious treats in what it called:


How the search for whiskey turned sour

Higgins “in a fetal position”


– The Advertiser, October 15, 2022

But the News Corp tabloids weren’t the only ones fascinated by a case regularly and mistakenly dubbed by the media “the Higgins trial.”

And as Jacqueline Maley wrote in the Herald, there’s a reason for their interest:

…this sexual assault case is unlike any we have seen in Australia.

Unlike other sexual assault trials, the complainant was identified and even treated as a hero by some.

In media terms, there was no better story than the alleged assault of Brittany Higgins – a post-#metoo chronicle in which sex crime, politics, cover-up and scandal intersected.

– The Sydney Morning Herald, October 20, 2022

And as Judge Lucy McCallum said, reporters covering the trial were hanging from the rafters.

We counted some 26 articles on the ABC website, 36 articles in the Sydney Morning Herald, 57 in the Daily Mail, 59 on News.com.au and 63 in The Australian.

Plus, live blogs updating readers on every new trial information.

But it’s no surprise that people’s news alerts have been inundated with updates and recaps. Because from day one, the explosive Brittany Higgins allegations have been a media affair, with Higgins speaking to reporters Samantha Maiden and Lisa Wilkinson to tell her story.

Indeed, this was a question raised in court:

ISABELLE MULLEN: Asked about her discussions with the reporters who broke the story, Samantha Maiden and Lisa Wilkinson, Higgins said: ‘It wasn’t about me or my story, it was about who might claim Logies and give up exclusivity.”

– Seven News (Sydney), October 6, 2022

And have the couple won any awards for their efforts? Yes they have.

But reporters weren’t the only ones suing Higgins for his story. The court also heard evidence of a $325,000 book deal organized by SMH columnist – and Lisa Wilkinson’s husband – Peter Fitzsimons.

And these relationships between Higgins and the media have been used by the defense in this trial to attack his credibility. As Seven News reported:

ISABELLE MULLEN: Wondering why she spoke to reporters Lisa Wilkinson and Samantha Maiden before going to the police, saying she may have been spurred on by a six-figure book deal offer from Wilkinson’s husband.

– Seven News (Sydney), October 19, 2022

In response, the prosecution pointed to Higgins’ honesty and consistency as a witness. Or as Studio 10 says:

STELA TODOROVIC: At the end of the day, the crown really wants the jury to see her as a reliable witness, saying that she was accurate, that she was honest and that she was consistent throughout the trial and the proof she gave.

– Studio 10, Ten Network, October 20, 2022

And that’s one of the key questions the jury will have to weigh when it resumes tomorrow, with media eager for a verdict.


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