Courting trouble

October 13, 2009

Bloggers beware: the Crown Law Office is reviewing internet publication after recent cases raised questions over contempt of court and suppression order breaches.

It’s nearly 30 years since I studied media law at journalism school. We weren’t using computers and had never heard of the internet so what we learned applied to print and broadcast media.

But I’ve always blogged on the theory that the laws which applied then still apply now whether they’re published in old media or new.

Comment which might influence a case before it’s concluded, publishing information that’s been suppressed or indentifying – explicitly or not – someone who has name suppression are all courting trouble.

Contempt of court has always been a serious charge and I don’t think the medium in which the offending comments were published would make a difference.

Blogs subject to same legal restraints as other media

July 13, 2009

Media law was an important part of Canterbury University’s  journalism course and we were fortunate to have one of New Zealand’s top specialists, Professor John Burrows, lecturing us.

The dangers of defamation, contempt of court and prejudicing a trial were repeated many times, with precautionary tales of journalists who had crossed the line to reinforce the seriousness of breaching the law. 

Those lessons have helped me resist any temptation I might have had to write posts on trials while they are under way.

Blogging may be a much more informal method of communicationt than other media, but it is subject to similar legal constraints.

The ODT reports on the issue and quotes Otago University law professor, Mark Henaghan:

“If it [blogging] is outside the law it would be ridiculous.”It would be a good idea if the solicitor-general brought contempt proceedings, as it would be a test case, he said.

“We’ve pussyfooted around blogging too much – it is part of communication.”Any interference with court proceedings was contempt of court.

Whether comments were made in blogs or yelling it out in court, it was still contempt.

“It’s a serious matter,” Prof Henaghan said.

Bloggers don’t have the safety net of sub editors to save us from ourselves and it’s not just what we post but what people may say in comments which could fall foul of the law.

For these reasons I’ll stick with my policy of playing safe.  I’m rarely tempted to post on criminal matters but if I am I’ll be waiting until after the case has been concluded.

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