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Information provision and restriction: The roles of the police, media and public in coverage of the Coral-Ellen Burrows murder inquiry

Volume 13, Issue 1

March, 2007

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Hardy, A., and Gunn, A. (2007). Information provision and restriction: The roles of the police, media and public. Pacific Journalism Review, (13(1): 161-181.
Author(s): Alastair Gunn, Ann Hardy
Publication date: 
April, 2007

Six-year-old Coral-Ellen Burrows disappeared in September 2003 after her stepfather, Stephen Williams, had apparently dropped her off at school, though in fact he had murdered her. After extensive searches, her body was found 10 days later. Williams pleaded guilty to murder and was duly sentenced. The intensive cross-media coverage of the search for Coral-Ellen—of the kind that Innes (1999) commenting on media and police interactions in Britain calls ‘blitz coverage’, made this case the pre-eminent news story of 2003. However, the attenuated nature of the search also exposed some of the tensions inherent in the relationships between those parties interested in the case. We understand these to consist of six entities which have an existence that is both material and conceptual: these are the victim’s family, possible suspects, the local community, the police, the media, and the national public, in this case envisaged in a dual role as wider community and media-audience. All of these stand in relationship to the more abstract yet rigid institution of the law, whose dictates guide the behaviour of the police, and strongly influence that of the media. This paper reports on research carried out by analysis ofNew Zealand Herald, Wairarapa Times-Age and TV One coverage of the case, and by two interviews with journalists investigating the forces that shaped the media coverage.