Reportingin a court of law can pose many problems that can lead to serious consequencesfor journalists including lawsuits and imprisonment.
That is why journalistsmust be careful to stick to the restrictions set in the court in order to avoidputting themselves and their news outlet in jeopardy. The result of a badreporting or even a simple mistake can result in the defendant being let offthe case, can create libel and contempt of court and can even sway the juryinto thinking a certain way and prejudicing the case. There areclear restrictions when court reporting that are put into place to protecteither the accused, the final ruling and any victims or witnesses.
There aredifferent types of court cases that a journalist can report on, the type ofcase can make the restrictions tighter or more lenient. For example, reportingon a case where the defendant or victim is a child means that the reporter issubject to certain rules. They cannot reveal the youth’s name, address, theirschool, their picture or anyone likely to identify the child.
It is the job ofthe court to decide if the identity of the youth can be revealed. (BBCAcademy) There are some waysin which the restriction can be lifted for example if the court is looking fora charged offender that has gone missing but only if it is a violent or sexualassault case.(section 47 of the Children and young person’s act 1993) Thisrestriction is in place for obvious reasons, in that the children need to beprotected from the media and the wider public especially the victims. However,the defendant if charged can also need protection from the public depending onthe case, for example when the Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, murderers ofJames Bulger, were released from prison in 2011 they were given new identitiesand when Jon Venables was taken to court again for possessing indecent images theJudge demanded that it be kept as a private case because people had sworn tokill them. (Spillet, R.
2018). Anothertype of case that can change the restrictions applies to sexual assault cases.The victim is granted anonymity for life, starting from the time of theallegation, and to publish the identity of any victim would be in breach of theSexual Offences (Amendment) Act (1992). However, the defendant can apply forthe identity to be released in order to appeal to witnesses that may make thecase more balanced.
If a complainant is 16 or older they can apply to have theban lifted and therefore can be identified. (Judicial College 2015) The consequences of breachingthis for a journalist can be career threatening and they can even be presentedwith a fine or a lawsuit to their company, the sexual Offences (amendment) actstates that “If any matter is published or included in a relevant programme incontravention of section 1, the following persons shall be guilty of an offenceand liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on thestandard scale” (Legislation.Gov 2018 Sexual Offences act). The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Actis in place due to the extremely sensitive nature of the crime committed andthe victims can feel that the proceedings are extremely stressful and don’twant to have publicity after there traumatic time. Thecontempt of court act (1981) has many restrictions within it and a reporter hasto be sure to stick to these or they can face court charges and fines. Thefirst section of the act is the strict liability rule.
This section covers theintent to create contempt of court can be treated as the journalist attemptingto interfere with justice in certain cases and whether it was intended is notan important factor. However, this act only comes into play if the piece thatis published influences the proceedings of justice, this section is also onlyapplicable if the story us published during the active trial, afterwards it canbe published legally, unless of course it is a sexual assault case or in youthcourt. The journalist cannot not be found guilty of contempt of court if thereport published is written fairly and accurately.(Legislation 2018 Contempt ofcourt act) The reason that this is inplace is to stop journalists interfering with the proceedings and to preventthem from publishing anything that could lead the jury and the public to thinka certain way about the defendant. A famous case where this has been committedis the Johanna Yeates case, where journalist’s committed contempt of court andthe Sun was fined £18,000 and the Daily Mirror were fined £50,000 after they wrotethat Christopher Jefferies, Joanna’s landlord, was guilty of her murder before anycharges were found and the Police found him innocent. The Attorney GeneralDominic Grieve started a contempt action against the Newspapers because theirreports against Jefferies were “so exceptional, so memorable” that itpresented a “risk of serious prejudice” to any potential future trialof Yeates’s killer” (Halliday, J. 2011).
Therestrictions that a journalist faces for broadcast also vary slightly due tothe type of case and court etc. When recording a news broadcast for an activecase the restrictions that apply link to what has already been previouslydiscussed in this essay, a matter of privacy is required for child cases andsexual assault cases. The recording of a case can only be used when authorisedby the courts, however this recording can be used only as a memoire and cannotbe broadcast or used to brief a witness. (Judicial College). It is also restricted forjournalists to take or publish any photographs in the court without thepermission of the judge. Even if granted permission to record or take a photothere are still several restrictions on what can be filmed or pictured. Ajournalist must be aware of what he/she is allowed to record, the main issuesurrounding this is identity as previously mentioned, this limits the abilityto expose the defendant and depending on certain factors could also prevent anyvictims or witnesses being filmed or pictured. As well as this, photographingjurors can get journalists into trouble and in Northern Ireland it is a formaloffence to identify jurors.
As for contempt risks, it is an offence to releaseinterviews with witnesses describing any events and there can be noreconstruction of evidence (http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/article/art20130702112133645).
This is done so that the widerpublic are not aware of who is in the Jury as it may lead people to attempt tomake them think a certain way or threaten them therefore they need to be keptin confidentiality. A fairlyobvious form of restriction and guideline when court reporting is that anypublished work during a case must be completely factual, accurate and fair. However,these facts must have been gathered in the court itself and no outsideinformation can be included. These stories should also be devoid of anypersonal opinions that may prejudice a case. The restrictionsare put in place to protect the court and if broken they can commit libel, theyare also used by journalists as a guideline to protect themselves from being caughtfor libel.
Libel is “to publish in print (including pictures), writing orbroadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another whichwill do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring thetarget into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others.” (https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/libel) If a journalist is reporting on acase and they publish a story and they do not use terms such as ‘accused’ or’allegations’ when talking about the defendant they can be held as libel which usuallywill result in a lawsuit of the place of publication. Toconclude there are several restrictions that a journalist must face whenreporting in the court of law and many severe consequences if the restrictionsare not followed and they can be as extreme as jail time or lawsuits. Thisessay discusses some of these key restrcitions and shows examples how when ajournalist has failed to meet the standards expected of them in court, thisshows the importance of sticking to the laws and why the restrictions are inplace. These restrictions are in place in order to protect the people involvedin the case and to protect the outcome of the entire case, if broken the casecan be changed dramatically or the people involved can be put into danger.
Itis vital that these are followed by all journalists so that correct justice canbe found for every case and anyone involved has their rights to privacy respected. Word count:1446 Bibliography:BBCAcademy (2013) Contempt and reportingrestrictions Internet, BBC. Available from: < http://www.bbc.
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