South Sudanese youth in media cross-hairs

Victorian judge says false and unfair media coverage is dangerous and could “undermine the public confidence in the justice system”

By: Tagwa Elnor

Chief Judge Peter Kidd speaking to Four Corners

In a recent interview by ABC’s current affairs program Four Corners, Judge Peter Kidd spoke of the dangers associated with unfair reporting and media portrayal of the South Sudanese community in Melbourne’s western suburbs.

A number of crimes associated with South Sudanese youth in Melbourne over the last year have prompted debate as to whether or not Victoria is facing serious crisis involving gangs of African backgrounds.

In the interview, Judge Kidd dismissed the allegations entirely, saying the media is misleading the public and giving unfair attention to these crimes, and states: “the current atmosphere is dangerous”.

Despite the South Sudanese crimes being a tiny percentage when compared to other racial backgrounds, the “media chooses to report upon” these cases, which in return creates a chaotic, heated response from the general public toward the South Sudanese community as a whole.

“If you are an African offender, and certainly if you’re an African youth of South Sudanese background from the western suburbs of Melbourne, rest assured your case will be reported upon.”

This misleading propaganda creates an impression that “a very significant proportion of our work is taken up with African youths from the western suburbs of Melbourne” Judge Kidd strongly dismisses this claim.

Judge Kidd stressed that the process to sentencing youth of African or South Sudanese background is based on individual cases and free from racist approaches. “If somebody comes to us and they’re black …we don’t just tick a box and say, well, therefore they’re going to get a higher sentence or a lower sentence as the case may be.”

On previous occasions, the media has criticised judges for being too lenient on youth crimes, “Criticising the courts is part of the democratic process. I welcome informed criticism,” he said.

He says a lot of the criticism is not informed or balanced and is not fair to those affected. This in turn, undermines the public’s confidence in the justice system, and is effectively an attack upon the rule of law.”

Earlier this year, politicians Peter Dutton and Primer Minister Malcom Turnbull used the highly polarised debate for their political advantages. Both made headlines saying Melbournians are “scared to go out at night” due to fear of being followed home.

The headlines triggered allegations about African street gangs, and further vilified the mostly peaceful Sudanese and South Sudanese community as a whole who find themselves increasingly targeted for the crimes of a tiny minority in their midst.