This is a copy of an article I recently published on the John Marsden defamation tiral and mythological images mobalised in the media coverage of the trial.

Recent scholarship has explored the mythical function of news reporting. A diverse set of studies has shown that when news takes mythic shape it can perform both a community-building cultural role and/or a boundary-setting ideological role.

This article looks at theories of myth and the way it functions in both journalism and law. This mythical understanding is contrasted with the widely held views of journalism and law as truth-seeking and fact-based institutions. The public identity of any plaintiff in a defamation case will necessarily come under challenge. The adversarial system necessitates the construction of competing tales of who that person is and how he or she customarily behaves.

This process seems to have been exacerbated in the case of Sydney solicitor John Marsden, the longest running defamation case in Australian legal history. Powerful archetypal patterns shaped the telling of the Marsden story, which takes it well beyond the realm of the controversial and into the realm of the mythical. Mythical images of hero, villain, martyr and initiate are identified as operating in the Marsden trial and its reporting. But the image of the mercurial Trickster is identified as a key myth in understanding the Marsden story.

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News and Myth

In times like these it becomes only too obvious that news has a mythical function. News producers fall readily into the pattern of creating heroes and villains but more importantly reading and writing the news is a cultural function that brings some people into the center and casts out others to the margins.

This is a very introductory essay (Download file) that I wrote last year on mythical constructs in the news. The theory section is very basic but the analysis of Australian coverage of the Bali bombing and of an Australian 60 Minutes episode may be of some interest to media watchers.

I am currently involved in more detailed research on the myths mobalised by news paper magazines.

For those interested in this type of analysis a couple of other links:

Annabel Lukin a Sydney linguist analyses the grammar of the war on terror

And NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen looks at Master Narratives in the news
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