Tag Archives: Contempt of court

Test your online journalism law: 5 – witness to a fatal beating

Every day this week I have been publishing an example of a legal dilemma that might face a journalism student (why? Read my previous post on students being publishers, and the responsibilities that come with that). I can’t promise a ‘right answer’ at the end of the week – but I hope you can comment on what a student publisher might do – and why.

Case 5: Your friend witnesses a fatal beating

This isn’t a particularly nice story. Your source tells you that last night she saw a man being beaten so badly that he died afterwards.

You ask questions about where the attack took place, the victim, the attackers, and what was said and done during the attack.

You decide to write a story from what she has told you.

The questions

  1. What are the legal issues here – and what tests need to be met for them to be an issue?
  2. What defence(s) could you mount?
  3. How likely is it that legal action would result?
  4. Would you publish – and why?
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Test your online journalism law: 3 – magistrate criticises police

Every day this week I am publishing an example of a legal dilemma that a journalism student might face (why? Read my previous post on students being publishers, and the responsibilities that come with that). I can’t promise a ‘right answer’ at the end of the week – but I hope you can comment on what a student publisher might do – and why.

Case 3: Judge criticises heavy handed police

Here’s another true story. You are attending magistrate’s court in your search for stories. One case related to a breach of bail conditions.

As the defendant hadn’t reported to a police station as required, seven police officers went to his house to find out why. 

The magistrate questioned why it had taken so many police.

“Clearly there is no crime in Heretown if so many police could be spared.”

The defendant was put on an electronic tag instead.

You decide to write a story along the lines of ‘magistrate criticises police’ against the background of the case.

The questions

  1. What are the legal issues here – and what tests need to be met for them to be an issue?
  2. Would you publish – and why?

‘Answers’ and discussion in the comments

 

Time to talk about legal

As a lone blogger how much legal protection do you have? No more than anyone else, when it comes to libel, contempt of court law and so on, except that people are more likely to pay attention to large media organisations.

But there are many instances where bloggers have lost a lot of time and money over legal disputes. Last week, for example, journalist and blogger Dave Osler finally saw an end to a legal battle that consumed three years of his life, after he was sued for libel by the political activist Johanna Kaschke. Despite being refused the right to appeal the strike-out of the Osler case, she is still planning to appeal another High Court decision that ended her libel claim against Alex Hilton and John Gray.

If all individual bloggers worried about getting into trouble too much, we’d write much less than we do. Even big scary cases aren’t a deterrent: Dave Osler is still blogging. I was personally surprised by the results of my survey of 71 small online publishers this summer. Not that only 27 per cent had been involved in legal disputes (that was about what I expected) but that over half were satisfied with the number of legal resources available.

Personally, the grey areas of law trouble me and I don’t think there could be enough support: I’d like to see more organised structures for legal help, a sort of Citizens Advice Bureau for bloggers, if you like. Informal advice is already spreading via social networks, as lawyers increasingly use Twitter and blogs to join the conversation.

As I reported on my site Meeja Law, one hyperlocal blogger who was accused of breach of copyright asked for legal advice via Twitter: “Two separate media lawyers confirmed (for free) that I’d done nothing wrong. I also contacted [hyperlocal organisation] Talk About Local for advice, and they told me the same.”

Talk About Local has published several media law guides online (eg. this one on defamation) and the organisation’s founder William Perrin offers some frank legal advice ahead of a legal session at last weekend’s London Local Neighbourhoods Online Unconference:

…just about the best legal advice, which very few follow is to set up a 
limited company and keep the website inside that. Then you don’t lose 
your house to a nutter under defamation law….

Another concern of mine is the lack of transparency of courts data, something I’ve discussed at length here. I think bloggers should be able to access more information about cases; at the very least, the Ministry of Justice needs to consider its outmoded contempt of court law that is ill-equipped to deal with the online age.

In the coming months, I’d like to build up the conversation in this area and think about how we might approach some of these issues. If you’d like to be part of this informal online ‘working group’ please consider joining the Help Me Investigate challenge at this link (request membership here), or discussing via the OJB Facebook group.

UPDATE [Paul Bradshaw]: I’ve created a LinkedIn group as a place for people to more openly discuss how to take this forward.

Judith Townend (@jtownend on Twitter) is a PhD research student at City University London and freelance journalist.

Pluck out your eyes: the anatomy of a super injunction

Super injunctions – those that don’t just order a newspaper not to report something, but forbid it from reporting the existence of the reporting restrictions – are on the rise.

The Guardian has been served with at least 12 notices of injunctions that could not be reported so far this year, compared with six in the whole of 2006 and five the year before.

And Carter Ruck continue their kafkaesque moves to stop reporting about Trafigura and the Minton report (their latest attempt is to write to Parliament saying it can’t discuss the matter, at the same time as saying they’re not trying to forbid anyone reporting what Parliament discusses. That’s because there wouldn’t be anything to discuss).

So what does a super injunction look like? I’ve got hold of one – I obviously can’t say which and I’ve had to leave out the juicy bits. But here’s what it says. Continue reading