Tag Archives: journalism ethics

Lessons for us all in $300k Yahoo!7 fine for contempt [updated]

By MARK PEARSON

Most Australian followers of this blog will have seen in the news that Yahoo!7 has been fined $300,000 for sub judice contempt over a publication which triggered the discharge of a jury in a Victorian murder trial.

The relatively inexperienced online journalist who wrote and uploaded the story to the organisation’s news site (without attending the court case on which she was reporting) escaped with a two year good behaviour bond, but Supreme Court Justice John Dixon noted the impact upon her of the media coverage and public shaming.

The main problem with her story was that it included excerpts from the victim’s social media accounts indicating the accused had a history of violence towards her and that she feared for her life – prejudicial evidence of which the jury was unaware.

This was enough for Dixon J. to rule:

“I find that the conduct of the respondents in publishing the article during the trial of an accused on a murder charge was conduct in contempt of court. I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the publication, objectively and as a matter of practical reality, had a real and definite tendency to prejudice the trial of the accused.” (2016 judgment, para 3).

As university classes resume for the new academic year, it is timely to consider the lessons of the sorry episode for journalists and journalism students, educators and media organisations.

The two judgments – the conviction in 2016 and the sentencing in 2017 – deserve careful examination by all. Here are the take-home messages for us all:

Journalists and Journalism students

According to her LinkedIn page, the journalist was a graduate of a one year broadcast journalism program in 2013 and had since worked at modeling, sales, and internships as a television producer before gaining her position with Yahoo!7 as morning news producer in June 2015, just over a year prior to the offending story.

No doubt some basics of media law would have been covered in that institution’s media law course as they are in tertiary journalism programs throughout Australia. However, just because a student passes a media law subject with a mark of more than 50% does not mean he or she has learned and remembered every key topic covered.

If you are a student about to embark on a media law course you must realize that the consequences for failing to remember and apply the key elements of media law in your workplace can cost you your professional reputation, many times your annual salary in fines or damages awards, and even your liberty in the form of a jail term.

This means media law is way too important to undertake with that common student approach of “passes build degrees”. You need to read your textbooks and assigned readings, review them, view and engage in other recommended learning materials and tools, grapple with learning problems – and set your mind to keep up to date with developments in each of the media law topic areas. In other words, you need to make media law your passion and hobby if you are to have a good chance of staying out of trouble with the law.

That goes for working journalists as well as students. My experience in training working journalists is that most have forgotten the basic principles of defamation and contempt they learned at university or in training courses many years prior.

As for content, the key lesson from this case is that while a criminal trial is pending or in progress you should only report what has been stated in court in the presence of the jury. Dixon J. summed up the basic principles of sub judice contempt particularly well at para 24 of the 2016 trial:

(a) All contempt of court proceedings involve circumstances where there has been an interference with the due administration of justice;

(b) The law is concerned with the tendency of the matter published in the risk created by its publication.[3] It is unnecessary to prove that a juror or potential juror actually read or heard the prejudicial material;[4]

(c) The test for liability for sub judice contempt is whether the published material has, as a matter of practical reality, a real and definite tendency to prejudice or embarrass particular legal proceedings or interfere with the due administration of justice in the particular proceeding;[5]

(d) The tendency is to be ‘determined objectively by reference to the nature of the publication and it is not relevant for this purpose to determine what the actual effect of the publication on the proceedings has been or what it probably will be. If the publication is of a character which might have an effect upon the proceedings, it will have the necessary tendency, unless the possibility of interference is so remote or theoretical that the de minimis principle should be applied’;[6]

(e) The tendency is to be determined at the time of the publication;[7]

(f) Publication on the internet occurs when the material is uploaded onto the internet;[8]

(g) Proof of an intention of the contemnor to interfere with or obstruct the administration of justice is not a necessary element to be proved;[9]

(h) It is not relevant to consider the actual effect of the publication. Regard is had to the nature and content of the publication and to the circumstances in which it occurred;[10]

(i) Publishing or broadcasting material that is inadmissible before a jury may have the necessary tendency to prejudice an accused’s right to a fair trial;[11]

(j) It is an elementary principle in the administration of criminal justice that, apart from exceptional cases, usually defined by statute, the bad character or prior convictions of an accused cannot be put before the jury on a trial;[12]

(k) The law sets its face against trial by prejudice and innuendo. The principle that the prosecution may not adduce evidence, tending to show that an accused person has been guilty of other criminal acts or has a propensity to violent behaviour, for the purpose of leading to the conclusion that he is a person likely to have committed the offence with which he is charged is deeply rooted and jealously guarded;[13]

(l) The weight and importance of the various factors that will be material in assessing the circumstances of publication will vary from case to case. Broadly speaking, the more important factors will include the following: the content of the publication; the nature of the proceedings liable to be affected, whether they are civil or criminal proceedings and whether at the time of publication they are pending at the committal, trial or appellate stage; the persons to whom the publication is addressed; and finally, the likely durability of the influence of the publication on its audience;[14]

He continued:

Para 25: For centuries, a ‘golden rule’ has been observed by journalists and publishers that while proceedings are being tried before the courts, information that is not admitted as evidence before the jury is not reported or published to prevent the possibility that the jury is influenced by prejudicial, extraneous, or irrelevant information. The rationale is well understood. In 1811, Lord Ellenborough stated in R v Fisher:[18]

“If anything is more important than another in the administration of justice, it is that jurymen should come to the trial of those persons on whose guilt or innocence they are to decide, with minds pure and unprejudiced’.”

Para 26: More recently, in 1985, Watkins LJ in Peacock v London Weekend Television[19] reaffirmed the balance between a fair trial and media reporting:

“In our land we do not allow trial by television or newspaper. Until the well-recognised institution of this country for the doing of justice, namely the courts, have worked their course, then the hand of the writer and the voice of the broadcaster must be still.”

Para 27: The rule is well understood by journalists through their education and is communicated to journalists by the court. The court’s website has a guide ‘Covering the Courts’[20] that stresses the importance of not disclosing material that is kept from a jury:

“Remember the golden rule: do not report anything said in the absence of the jury.

Advice: study, understand and remember these basic principles and you might avoid the fate of this Yahoo!7 reporter.

Journalism Educators

Much as we would like to believe otherwise, we all secretly know that this Yahoo!7 journalist could have been any one of our graduates in the modern news media environment.

24/7 rolling deadlines, staffing shortages, acute competition, minimal on the job training, combined with the rookie’s urge to prove themselves in a tough occupation mean that shortcuts are taken, mistakes are made, and much of the knowledge gained doing highly caffeinated swatting for media law exams has long since exited the memory banks.

This case is a clarion call to us to revisit our curricula and pedagogies and implement the latest learning and teaching techniques to “scaffold” and “deepen” our learning.

My recent experience has been that a combination of problem-based learning, formative quizzes, and end of semester problem scenarios seem to be far superior to the traditional end of semester sit-down exam of yesteryear. Add to the mix student discussion of cases and law reforms as they unfold, along with the embedding of some key media law revision in other subjects, and you gain confidence that the key principles will be learned and remembered in the news room – an exercise in genuine “mindful journalism” or “reflection-in-action”.

Media organisations

The halcyon era for media law training in news organisations was 1990-1994 with the operation of the Keating Government’s training guarantee levy – an obligation on corporations to spend 1.5% of their payroll on structured training courses. Back then regional journalists, for example, received up to five full days of media law training as part of their award and could not be promoted without being certified that they had undertaken it. From memory, it consisted of two days of defamation training, one day on contempt, another on court reporting, and the final on a mixed bag of other media law topics.

If they are lucky, journalists today might get a couple of hours every year or so of a media law briefing from a lawyer, on the strong (and usually false) assumption that they already know most of it from their university degrees.

In his 2017 sentencing judgment, Dixon J. found serious shortcomings in Yahoo!7’s training and workplace protocols justified the $300,000 fine:

“Para 26: I infer that the contemptuous publication likely occurred, at least in part, as a consequence of inadequate resourcing, driven by profit or commercial motivations. Conduct by media organisations that contributes to the risk of sub judice contempt in pursuit of a profit motive must be strongly discouraged.”

He was skeptical about the sustainability of the company’s assurances that it now had new systems in place to train journalists, assign extra editorial staff to manage the workload, and to engage external lawyers to assess court stories.

“Para 27: I can find no feeling of comfort that, should the profit motive rear its head in the future, Yahoo!7 (and other media organisations) will continue to incur expense to maintain systems and procedures that protect the integrity of court processes.”

“Para 30: The arrangements about legal advice before articles are uploaded to the internet appear clumsy, unrealistic in some respects, and may prove more difficult to enforce in practice, given time constraints and their importance in the business model being employed by Yahoo!7”.

One can only hope that all of those stakeholders – students, journalists, educators and media organisations – pay heed to those important lessons the learned judge has so eloquently expressed.

UPDATE: Court copycats caught out. ABC Media Watch exposes how some news organisations lift court reports from their competitors – an unethical practice with major legal pitfalls. View here.

———–

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2017

1 Comment

Filed under contempt of court, free expression, journalism, journalism education, media ethics, media law, Media regulation, mindful journalism, Press freedom, Uncategorized

Drilling down on suppression orders – with a call for reform #mediaiplaw

By MARK PEARSON

Suppression orders should be precise and address imminent publications likely to prejudice the case, not be futile and should only follow a request for removal, University of Melbourne senior lecturer Jason Bosland explained to the 2015 IP and Media Law Conference at the University of Melbourne Law School today (November 23).

Melbourne University's Jason Bosland calls for reform of suppression orders

Melbourne University’s Jason Bosland calls for reform of suppression orders

However, the courts continue to issue broad suppression orders that lack these qualities. Presenting a paper co-authored with Timothy Kyriakou, he explained that most suppression orders covered prior convictions and the vast majority were made against the “world at large” rather than at specific individuals or organisations.

“This indicates that orders are being made as a general precaution in a lot of cases rather than in response to an imminent publication,” he said.

He suggested reforms limiting magistrates’ court powers, giving all levels of the court system the same suppression order powers. Another anomaly was that the Supreme Court lacked power to issue a suppression order to ensure the safety of a person, a power held by the Magistrate’s Court.

His abstract explained:

In recent years, decisions in Victoria and New South Wales have considered the power of courts under the common law to restrain the publication of prejudicial material by the media, particularly in light of such material being published, or potentially published, on the internet.

This paper distills the principles established in those cases. It also considers whether and to what extent they continue to be relevant following the introduction of the Open Courts Act 2013 in Victoria and the Court Suppression and Non-publication Orders Act 2010 in New South Wales. It then examines the making of such orders in Victoria and assesses whether the courts have been complying with the relevant principles. Finally, some suggestions for reform are presented.

In his paper ‘The media’s standing to challenge departures from open justice’, Curtin Law School’s Michael Douglas argued the media was disadvantaged by suppression orders in ways most other parties were not.

Departures from open justice directly affect the legal rights and interests of media organisations. He argued that at common law, media organisations may intervene as of right, as a matter of natural justice, in any proceedings contemplating a departure from open justice.

“Open justice is essential to the integrity of our justice system. When a court departs from open justice, it is appropriate that media organisations are able to question whether the circumstances warrant the departure,” his paper stated. The paper addressed the issue of non-party media organisations’ standing to challenge departures from open justice.

In several jurisdictions, the issue is resolved by statute, but the position is not uniform around Australia.

The paper explained the position under the differing statutes and at common law. It focused on the common law position which remained in some jurisdictions, where the standing of media organisations was controversial.

“The orthodox view, expressed in older NSW authorities, is that media organisations have no absolute right to be heard at common law,” he stated, challenging that orthodoxy, following a contrary, Western Australian line of authority. The paper explored the link between principles of standing and the principles of natural justice drawn from High Court decisions.

The full conference program is here. Our paper (Pearson, Bennett and Morton) is titled ‘Mental health and the media: a case study in open justice’ (see earlier blog here).

———–

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Leave a comment

Filed under free expression, intellectual property, media ethics, media law, Media regulation, Uncategorized

How startups focus on the execution of business plans, with less intent on controlling IP

By MARK PEARSON

Entrepreneurs might undertake strategies that abandon formal IP protection in favour of being quicker to market and investing in capabilities – that is, focussing on an idea’s execution – University of Toronto Professor Joshua Gans told the 2015 IP and Media Law Conference, in his keynote address at the University of Melbourne Law School today (November 23).

JoshuaGandCMCL

Professor Joshua Gans delivering the keynote to the Media and IP Law Conference at the University of Melbourne.

He unveiled an economic model developed with colleagues Scott Stern and Kenny Ching featuring two key propositions.

“Execution allows you to maintain market leadership so control buys you only delay,” he said.

“Control only is cost in that regard. It only delays you without giving you additional benefit.

“Even aside from resource constraint issues, control and execution are substitute strategies. The whole is not greater than the sum of the parts. You want to advise firms to pursue control or execution but not both.”

He explained execution-oriented firms will hit key milestones more quickly and will be less dependent on significant venture capital investment.

He argued against what he said was the common assumption of IP analysis that the strength and use of IP is exogenous.

CMCLlogoforblog19-11-15“Here I argue that is is endogenous and depends on the choices of entrepreneurs/innovators in their business strategy,” he promised in his abstract.

“I demonstrate that entrepreneurs can undertake strategies that abandon formal IP protection in favour of being quicker to market and investing in capabilities — that is, focussing on execution.”

Joshua Gans is a Professor of Strategic Management and holder of the Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair of Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto (with a cross appointment in the Department of Economics). Since 2013, he has also been Area Coordinator of Strategic Management. He is also Chief Economist of the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab. In 2012, Joshua was appointed as a Research Associate of the NBER in the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program.

He has also co-authored (with Stephen King and Robin Stonecash) the Australasian edition of Greg Mankiw’s Principles of Economics (published by Cengage), Core Economics for Managers (Cengage), Finishing the Job (MUP) and Parentonomics (New South/MIT Press). Most recently, he has written an eBook, Information Wants to be Shared (Harvard Business Review Press).

The full conference program is here. Our paper (Pearson, Bennett and Morton) is titled ‘Mental health and the media: a case study in open justice’ (see earlier blog here).

———–

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Leave a comment

Filed under free expression, intellectual property, media ethics, media law, Media regulation, Uncategorized

How to challenge a ban on naming a mental health patient

By MARK PEARSON

UTS colleague Associate Professor Tom Morton, ABC lawyer Hugh Bennett and I will deliver a paper in Melbourne next week on our experiences applying to the Mental Health Tribunal of NSW for permission to name a forensic mental health patient in an ABC documentary and in our academic works.

CMCLlogoforblog19-11-15The occasion is the 2015 IP and Media Law Conference, hosted by the Centre for Media and Communications Law at the University of Melbourne Law School, November 23-24. The full program is here. I plan to blog a few of the highlights of the sessions I attend.

Our paper is titled ‘Mental health and the media: a case study in open justice’ and we present on the first morning of the conference. Here is its abstract:

News and current affairs reportage about forensic mental health cases raises a host of competing interests, including the public’s right to know about mental health tribunal processes; a patient’s right to privacy, treatment, and recovery; and victims’ and the broader community’s interest in learning the longer term consequences of a publicised serious criminal act. This article details a case study of the legal processes involved in applications for permissions to identify a forensic mental health patient in NSW in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio National Background Briefing documentary ‘The Man Without a Name’ and in subsequent research blogs and scholarly works including this article. It begins by backgrounding the restrictions on publicising mental health tribunal cases in Australia, summarising the case study, examining the specific restrictions applying to the Mental Health Review Tribunal in NSW, detailing the processes followed in the successful application by the authors to name the patient, comparing the case with Australian and British cases, and making some recommendations for further research and reform.

Tom and I recently co-authored an article on the ethics of that same experience in Pacific Journalism Review, titled ‘Zones of silence: Forensic patients, radio documentary, and a mindful approach to journalism ethics’. Here is our abstract. Full contents of the edition and subscription details can be seen here. Reference: Morton, T. and Pearson, M. (2015). Zones of silence: Forensic patients, radio documentary, and a mindful approach to journalism ethics. Pacific Journalism Review, 21(2), 11-32.

———–

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2015

3 Comments

Filed under blogging, Buddhism, citizen journalism, Eightfold Path, free expression, media ethics, mental health, social media, Uncategorized

Zones of silence: Forensic patients, radio documentary, and a mindful approach to journalism ethics

By MARK PEARSON

Congratulations to Pacific Journalism Review editors David Robie, Annie Goldson and Barry King on their newly released special edition ‘Documentary Practice in the Asia-Pacific’.

I was honoured to be invited by research colleague Associate Professor Tom Morton from UTS to co-write an article centred upon the law and ethics behind his ABC Background Briefing documentary ‘The Man Without A Name’, broadcast in 2014. In the article we detail the story behind the documentary and the legal and ethical challenges we faced in navigating the publishing restrictions of the NSW Mental Health Act and some related legislation.

PJR Special Edition vol21(2) OP FINAL CORRECTED 685wide_0

Cover of the special Pacific Journalism Review edition Volume 21 (2)

Here is our abstract:

This article explains a collaborative and critically reflective journalism research project stemming from the wish of an incarcerated forensic mental health patient to be named in public communication about his case. The authors are academics and journalists who embarked upon a combination of journalism, legal processes and academic research to win the right to name Patient A in a radio documentary and in academic works—including this journal article and research blogs. As a case study, it explains the theoretical and ethical considerations informing the journalism and the academic research, drawing upon traditions of documentary production, the principle of open justice and the ethical framework of ‘mindful journalism’. It concludes by drawing lessons from the project that might inform future practitioners and researchers embarking upon works of journalism and research involving vulnerable people and a competing set of rights and public interests.

Full contents of the edition and subscription details can be seen here.

———–

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Leave a comment

Filed under blogging, Buddhism, citizen journalism, Eightfold Path, free expression, media ethics, mental health, social media, Uncategorized

The Guardian, GCHQ, the leaked security files and the airport arrest – an Australian view

By MARK PEARSON

It is fascinating when an area of your research suddenly launches into life in a real event.

That happened in the UK this week when Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger revealed senior government officials had ordered him to destroy computer hard drives containing leaked National  Security Agency (NSA) files or face court action which would almost inevitably result in an order to hand the material over.

We also learned the partner of a Guardian journalist was held at Heathrow Airport for nine hours under anti-terrorism laws, prompting the question ‘Could this happen in Australia?’.

The answer – put simply – is ‘Yes’, as I explained to Richard Aedy on Radio National’s Media Report this week.

You can download that interview here.

Screen Shot 2013-08-24 at 9.13.34 AM

I’ve been working with Griffith University colleague Associate Professor Jacqui Ewart and lawyer Joshua Lessing in this space and our article on Australia’s anti-terrorism laws (including some comparison with  the UK situation) was published in the latest edition of the prestigious Journal of Media Law, edited by the legendary media law expert, Professor Eric Barendt.

Our article’s citation is: Ewart, Jacqui; Pearson, Mark; and Lessing, Joshua. ‘Anti-terror laws and the news media in Australia since 2001: how free expression and national security compete in a liberal democracy’. Journal of Media Law, Volume 5, Number 1, July 2013 , pp. 104-132(29).

The abstract follows below.

I hope you enjoy the Media Report interview, and I’m happy to correspond with other scholars interested in this space, and to have contact with students looking to pursue higher degree research in this area and other topics of media and social media law, ethics and regulation.

——-

“The 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States triggered an escalation of national security laws globally, including at least 54 in Australia, with some having implications for news reporting and open justice. This article backgrounds the Australian experience with such laws at a time when the United Kingdom is in the midst of a debate over the free expression impacts of its Justice and Security Bill. It uses case studies to highlight tensions between Australia’s security laws and the media’s Fourth Estate role and compares the Australian and UK human rights contexts. The article asks whether anti-terror laws restricting free expression should continue indefinitely in a democracy when national security breaches are likely to remain a major issue of public concern and there is no constitutional or human rights guarantee of free expression. It suggests a cautious approach to the renewal of such laws, particularly those restricting public debate about national security and its impact on human rights.”

– Ewart, Jacqui; Pearson, Mark; and Lessing, Joshua. ‘Anti-terror laws and the news media in Australia since 2001: how free expression and national security compete in a liberal democracy’. Journal of Media Law, Volume 5, Number 1, July 2013 , pp. 104-132(29).

© Mark Pearson 2013

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Our ‘news media and anti-terror laws’ article published in Journal of Media Law

By MARK PEARSON

It’s great when you get the chance to work with other scholars, so I’m delighted our collaborative article has been published in the latest edition of the prestigious Journal of Media Law, edited by the legendary media law expert, Professor Eric Barendt.

It’s an even greater pleasure to have co-authored it with my new colleague at Griffith University, Associate Professor Jacqui Ewart (the lead author), with expert research assistance from lawyer Joshua Lessing (also co-author). [Joshua’s late father John became a close family friend after teaching me in the very first subject of my LLM – Company and Partnership Law – way back in 1990.]

Our article’s citation is: Ewart, Jacqui; Pearson, Mark; and Lessing, Joshua. ‘Anti-terror laws and the news media in Australia since 2001: how free expression and national security compete in a liberal democracy’. Journal of Media Law, Volume 5, Number 1, July 2013 , pp. 104-132(29).

Here is the abstract to give you a taste, but you’ll need to subscribe to the journal or borrow it from a library to read the full article.

I’m happy to correspond with other scholars interested in this space, and with students who might want to pursue higher degree research in this area and other topics of media and social media law, ethics and regulation.

——-

“The 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States triggered an escalation of national security laws globally, including at least 54 in Australia, with some having implications for news reporting and open justice. This article backgrounds the Australian experience with such laws at a time when the United Kingdom is in the midst of a debate over the free expression impacts of its Justice and Security Bill. It uses case studies to highlight tensions between Australia’s security laws and the media’s Fourth Estate role and compares the Australian and UK human rights contexts. The article asks whether anti-terror laws restricting free expression should continue indefinitely in a democracy when national security breaches are likely to remain a major issue of public concern and there is no constitutional or human rights guarantee of free expression. It suggests a cautious approach to the renewal of such laws, particularly those restricting public debate about national security and its impact on human rights.”

– Ewart, Jacqui; Pearson, Mark; and Lessing, Joshua. ‘Anti-terror laws and the news media in Australia since 2001: how free expression and national security compete in a liberal democracy’. Journal of Media Law, Volume 5, Number 1, July 2013 , pp. 104-132(29).

© Mark Pearson 2013

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized