20 February 1997 Edition

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Gossip hides domestic violence

Aine Keane considers the media treatment of a celebrity court case

Hello magazine must have lost sales last week as gossip addicts tuned into the RTE newsroom for an altogether cheaper fix in the form of the Michelle Rocca case.

The elaborate soap opera received peak timing. A high-flying businessman, a former Miss Ireland, high class parties, stud farms and rich associates in Ireland's answer to the O.J Simpson trial. Broadsheets eagerly jumped on the tabloid bandwagon. Yet sadly amidst the flashing cameras the true issue of the case was lost

In Ireland we thankfully lack a monarchy, but we have our appetite for celebrity gossip. Gossip columns know their audiences. Teasingly they divulge the ``private'' goings-on of the social elite, winning their readers over with elements of truth while betraying them with fantasy. The Rocca case is particularly interesting for two reasons - for its treatment by the media and its handling of domestic violence.

Whatever really happened in the bedroom of Black Hall stud, Co. Kildare on March 22 1992, one thing is clear. Rocca received a broken nose, multiple cuts, larcerations and bruising, which by any definition amounts to domestic violence. Yet the reporting of the case free from libel has become fixated on the''lost paradise''of an ideal couple.

The opportunity to discuss domestic violence has been missed. Interest in the case was due to its celebrity content. Quality papers stooping to conquer the tabloid world failed miserably. This was an insult to the many victims of domestic violence who receive minimal coverage because they lack the celebrity status to draw attention to the plight of abusive partners and lack of refuge places.

The reports on the case highlight even further the vibrancy of the traditional uninformed arguments about domestic abuse, for example remarks about Rocca's provocative dress and the judge's comment that she was ``the authoress of her own misfortune''. Such commentries echo Mary Ellen Synott's idea that ``bad choices have bad consequences'', hence pointing the finger of blame for such violence towards women.

With the verdict in favour of Rocca and the £7,500 payment by her ex-partner the affair has returned to its old haunts ,the gossip columns of both the tabloids and broadsheets, leaving many serious issues unaddressed. The real verdict has been one in favour of attractive power play rather than truth. What is now needed is some hard hitting gritty realism concerning the facts of domestic violence without the safety net element of a fairytale gone wrong.

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