31.8.05

Truth as defence to contempt

After years of debate India seems set to allow 'truth' as a defence to contempt of court cases onto the statute book.

A Parliamentary Committee reviewing the proposed government Bill has this week signaled its approval for the new measure which would allow someone charged with contempt for having made an imputation against a court or judge to plead 'truth' as a defence. In other words, where someone is highly critical or even damning of a court or judge, if they can provide evidence that their comments and criticism are true, then this should stand as a defence even if it does undermine the court or a case.

Pressure for such an amendment came to bear on Parliament following the Supreme Court decision in Pritam Lal (Pritam Lal v. High Court of M.P. 1992 Cr.L.J. 1269= AIR 1992 SC 904) where an advocate had been charged with interfering with the administration of justice after making defamatory allegations about the judges before whom he was appearing.

In placing such a provision on the statute book Parliament would be allowing for greater open scrutiny of those administering justice, provided always that the basis for such scrutiny could be proven to be true. It will still be a judge who decides whether to prosecute alleged contempts or rule on the admissibility of the defence in a particular case so there is room for debate as to whether an imputation that is partially as opposed to substantially true would qualify for the defence under the new legislation when passed.

Whether legal reformists in the UK would entertain such a development in relation to contempt in the face of court or scandalising the court under UK contempt laws, poses an interesting question. Truth operates as a defence under defamation law and there is also the defence of privilege in relation to court proceedings, so where someone libeled a judge in open court then provided such libel could be shown to be true and didn't seriously prejudice the proceedings, then it may not amount to deliberate contempt or the older offence of a scandalous attack on the judiciary. In any event there is always the public interest defence under UK contempt laws and as exposing the truth can be seen to be in the public interest, the need for a specific defence in our contempt laws seems remote.

More on story from express india HERE
More discussion on India's contempt law HERE and HERE
Comprehensive comment from indiatogether.org HERE
Indian 1971 Contempt of Courts Act HERE

30.8.05

Big Brother evictee Makosi may get booted out of Britain

After being booted out of the Big Brother house, former contestant Makosi Musambasi may be booted out of Britain after her working visa was curtailed.

The 24 year old (who according to the Big Brother website believes she was an elephant in a former life) had been granted a visa to work as a cardiac nurse in High Wycombe but the terms of that visa didn't allow for her quitting her job to go and hang out in the Big Brother house.

The visa issue came to light after police pulled over the car her sister was driving as Makosi was not wearing a seatbelt. Having breached the terms of her visa, she must either leave the country or lodge an appeal.

If she wishes to stay she'll have to hope that her legal appeal carries more substance than the appeal she held for several Big Brother viewers.

More:
BBC
Sky
Big Brother website HERE

Adidas sticks the boot in China


German based sportswear company Adidas has launched legal proceedings against three Chinese companies for copying its distinctinve logo.

The case was commenced before the Beijing No1 People's Intermediate Court on Monday and cites clothing manufacturer Aile and two others as defendants.

Aile is accused of infringement for manufacturing the goods carrying a three-striped design similar to the Adidas brand, while a sports goods company and a shop are accused of distributing and selling the offending articles.

The manufacture of copycat or counterfeit goods is an infringement of trademark and associated intellectual property rights, while 'dealing' in or selling such goods is also an offence (and would count as secondary infringement under UK law).

Reports suggest that Adidas is seeking the equivalent of USD370,ooo in compensation from the defendants.

Adidas is no stranger to litigation over its trademark, having launched a similar action against US company Abercrombie & Fitch earlier this year and against Polo Ralph Lauren last year over stripes that appeared on a jacket.

Whether Adidas' 'Super Star' stripes can be protected in every form came under challenge in yet another case where Adidas-Salomon sued Target Corp. and there has been much debate over the distinction between product design, trade dress and logo.

EU approves RTL takeover of FIVE

Following the announcement on 20th July that RTL was to acquire the remaining 35.4 per cent shareholding in UK broadcaster FIVE, the European Commission has today given approval for the deal under which RTL gains complete control of the broadcaster.

RTL has always held a stake in FIVE, taking an initial holding of 29 per cent back in 1997. Following the merger of Pearson and CLT-UFA in 2000, RTL upped its overall stake to 64.6 per cent.

RTL said that FIVE plays a key role for the group and the deal underlines RTL's commitment to the sector in the UK.

European Commission announcement HERE
Press Releases re acquisition HERE and HERE

25.8.05

Sun pays out 'substantial' damages for saying 'Spencer' was sacked


Having been warned about privacy intrusion last year, The Sun has been forced to pay 'substantial' damages to actor Chris Parker. Known for his role as Alfie's sidekick, Spencer Moon in EastEnders, Parker left the soap in January after a barrage of press coverage surrounding his personal life.

The press latched on to Parker after the actor attempted suicide last November and when it was confirmed that he had 'agreed' to leave EastEnders, The Sun
pic: BBC/onelife web took the story further by claiming he'd been sacked.

The Sun went on to allege that he was kicked out for refusing to see the soap's appointed psychologist. After the paper refused to apologise for publishing the false claims Parker issued proceedings through his lawyers at The Simkins Partnership who today secured what they descirbed as a 'substantial' pay-out over the story. The Sun has also printed an apology.

The case goes to show that its unwise to make false allegations or speculation, especially when these relate to personal matters such as health. Not only could this be seen as invasive of privacy but where unsubstantiated (as it was in this case), defamatory.

It was made clear in the House of Lords judgment in Naomi Campbell's case against the Mirror that the courts will take a dim view of intrusion into and/or reports of a person's medical condition. The Sun scraped the barrel with their initial coverage of Frank Bruno's psychological troubles but quickly dug themseves out of that potentially large lawsuit.

There's one thing exposing a soap star or celebrity for having been on a drink or drug-fuelled bender - or, if true, an affair (if untrue, then you get sued ...as the Sun was reminded of recently when forced to write out a big cheque to Cameron Diaz) but another to trade off troubles of a personal or psychological nature.

More:
MediaGuardian
BBC announces Parker's departure

24.8.05

Libel damages for Timberlake after model lied to News of the World over affair

An expensive pack of lies. Model Lucy Clarkson and News of the World have been forced to pay libel damages to Justin Timberlake after she admitted that he claims of an affiar with Timberlake were 'entirely untrue'. The claims caused Justin and girlfriend Cameron Diaz distress and embarrassment after the News of the World splashed Clarkson's claims under the headline "Bad news for Cameron as model reveals lover's secret fling"

Quite what Clarkson (who became known as a body double for Lara Croft in Tomb Raider) was thinking is anyone's guess but she'd obviously never heard of libel. She's agreed to pay out the money she received from the paper as damages, while News of the World will have to foot its own damages and legal bill over the story.

This case highlights the risks the press face when their sorces tell them lies. The lengths to which editors can or do check stories and sources varies but when it comes to libel, a check too few can result in a damages cheque too many.

Both Timberlake and Diaz have been the focus of much media attention lately and a string of false reports alleging they had been cheating on each other. Privacy issues aside, when people tell porky pies to the press then its fair play to celebrities who litigate over such libels. The problem is that the lies tend to get more exposure than the subsequent legal action correcting them.

Timberlake was represented by Simon Smith from Schillings who also acted for Diaz in her recent successful action against The Sun over claims she'd snogged a married man.

More:
BBC HERE
Diaz wins libel award HERE
Diaz wins case against photographer John Rutter HERE and HERE
The false allegations still appear in a news report on FemaleFirst.co.uk HERE
More Lucy Clarkson HERE

Condom carrying nuns seen as offensive

The Taiwanese authorities have withdrawn ads showing a smiling nun holding a condom. The posters had been displayed in various public places as part of an anti-Aids campaign.

As Reuters reports, the happy nun holds onto a condom with both hands with the caption "although I don't need one, even I know'

Local Catholics were outraged at the ad and not impressed that campaign organisers had decided that in wanting to use someone with a 'positive' image, they had opted for a nun.

Defamation - Bud Brewer in big bucks settlement



Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch is reported to have reached a settlement in its long running legal battle with the family of baseball legend Roger Maris

The case dates back to a court action which the Maris family (trading as Maris Distributing) won against Anheuser-Busch back in 2001. That original action related to the termination of a beer distribution deal in 1997 and saw the jury award damages of 50 million dollars against the brewer.

That award became tied up in the associated defamation claim under which it was alleged that the brewer had defamed Maris by alleging sub-standard distribution and selling beer beyond its sell-by date. Allowing for interest on the judgment debt, the figure claimed by the Maris family had been placed at a staggering 5 billion dollars (enought to dwarf any UK defamation action and send shockwaves in the direction of those involved in claims for trade libel)

Having originally granted distributorship to Maris at the end of his baseball career, Anheuser-Busch was accused of conspiring to retain its preferred distributors while forcing others out of the market. The protracted legal dispute saw no love lost between the parties who both seemed relieved that a settlement had been reached. No details were given as to the figure but taking into account legal costs and the interest on the 2001 judgment debt, a billion dollars (give or take) may not be out of the question. (The brewer's accounts show an allowance of nearly 40 million dollars for the judgment debt alone).

The settlement came as the jury continued with its second day of deliberations on the back of a three week trial and has been seen in some quarters as a damage limitation exercise.

Whatever the undisclosed settlement figure, this goes to show that when it comes to dirt dishing in the competitive world of business, the legal consequences can create a true hangover.

Details from Forbes.com HERE
More:
St. Louis Business Journal HERE
USA Today HERE

23.8.05

'LOST' - the plot and the legal action


The plot for hit series 'Lost' has apparently been 'misappropriated' from a story commissioned back in 1977.


According to Hollywood Reporter and Reuters, writer/producer Anthony Spinner whose list of programme credits include the legendary 'Man from Uncle' has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles claiming damages for infringement, fraud and breach of contract.

He claims that he was contracted by veteran childrens tv producers Sid and Marty Krofft
to come up with a script for a bunch of air crash survivors who end up in a jungle with stange beasts....sound familiar? better still, it was to be produced by ABC under the title 'Lost'

Spinner says he has the contract to prove it along with details of royalty payments he would have been due: "Plaintiff has a right to payment and a right to royalties from ABC and Touchstone as a result of their profit" is what's in the deposition. His action is lodged against ABC and Touchstone Television.

So unless Spinner is spinning a line, it would appear ABC's legal team (from whom there has been no comment so far) will need to dust down some of their old contracts to resolve this. With the second series due to air in the US, a quick settlement might be the way to go.

Legal trivia:
Sid and Marty Krofft sued McDonalds over similarities between Mayor McCheese and Pufnstuf back in the 1970s - you know you want to read more HERE

ABC, along with Simon Cowell, is already being sued for having ripped off another show 'Million Dollar Idea' - details HERE

More links:
Hollywood Reporter HERE
Zap2it.com HERE
Lost.tv - unofficial UK fansite HERE

22.8.05

Blair in Barbados


What excitement. The news blackout imposed on the PM's top secret holiday destination had been lifted. He's been outed in Barbados after attending a war memorial service on Sunday.

His head of press had asked the media to keep his wherabouts secret 'for security reasons' but given he's attended a public event the secret's out.

If you really wanted to know where he was, it took Mediabeak just 10 seconds to search the 10 Downing Street website and find a 'PMOS' PM's Morning Briefing from the 26th of July that said he was in Barbados 'having arrived there last night'. Too easy to believe - click HERE

More from:
BBC
MediaGuardian
For a fun read from the New York Times - Forget Waldo. Where's Tony Blair?

21.8.05

Testimony of the talk show host hoping it will be judgment day for the mob


Its the stuff films are made of. Radio DJ and founder of the Guardian Angels takes on the notorious mafiosesque Gambino family. Still hurting from the bullets he took in a 1992 attack, Curtis Sliwa hopes his testimony will help see justice being done in the current trial of "Junior" Gotti on racketeering charges.

Allegedly the target of a mob hit following uncomplimentary comments on his radio show, Sliwa is keen to get even with the mob who he claims were responsible for his shooting.

So some 13 years on the 'Angel' will come face to face with his demon. Whether it will be the last time he makes disparaging remarks about families with supposedly ciminal connections remains to be seen. As he found out last time round, exercising his freedom of expression doesn't make him immune to the actions of those who don't like what he has to say.

More from CNN HERE
Latest from MSNBC HERE
Gangland News - Dapper Don Ordered Sliwa Shooting HERE
John Gotti HERE

20.8.05

MTV and VIVA to ban ringtone ads

Ringtones and those who constantly play them on their phones are annoying at the best of times, so its no wonder that tv bosses in Germany have decided that running ringtone ads in prime-time is putting off viewers.

As reported on German media site DWDL.de, MTV will cut ringtone ads from its peak (4pm-midnight) viewing time from October and VIVA will follow suit next March.

The move is part of a drive to move away from cheap trash tv and nasty noisy ads which the channels hope will bring back viewers and attract other advertisers.

Crazy Frog, your days are numbered!


DWDL report HERE
Spiegel Online HERE

19.8.05

Beijing censors online sensation


Chinese authorities have censored websites and blogs after an online self-publicity campaign turned a 28 year old woman into an internet icon. As reported by Reuters 'Sister Furong', (whose real name is Shi Hengxia), made her online debut by posting provocative pictures of herself on the bulletin boards of two Beijing universities that had refused her a place.

Her busty pictures and accompanying text were designed to draw attention to her talent but soon attracted the attention of thousands of internet users across the country. Her campaign became the sbubject of much debate as it went beyond what traditional media control in China would allow.

It wasn't long before the state censors stepped in and forced websites and blogs to remove or bury content or links related to her. Second to the US, China has the largest number of online users and has set up a special internet police force to patrol the net.

So for those wishing to pull off successful self-publicity stunts, the long arm of the law extends into cyberspace.

This level of censorship goes againts the grain and ethos of what the net was originally about and it will be interesting to see if censors try to block content on sites hosted outside China.

Full story from Reuters HERE
The Register HERE
Wired News HERE
The Epoch Times HERE
Taiwan News HERE

18.8.05

Large libel award for former Malaysian Deputy PM


Anwar Ibrahim former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia has been awarded 1.2 million dollars in damages over a book he claims contributed to his being dismissed from office.

Entitled '50 Reasons Why Anwar Ibrahim Cannot Become Prime Minister', the book (published in 1998) contained a series of allegations centered around allegations of sexual misconduct.

Having been ousted from office he subsequently stood trial for corruption and sodomy and was jailed for a total of 15 years. He was released last year after a successful appeal against the sodomy charge and earlier this year secured damages and an apology from a former police chief who had assaulted him in custody.

Judgment was awarded in Anwar's favour in January after the defence lawyer didn't show in court. Today's award is one of the largest for libel in Malaysia but is unlikely to be paid out as the 65 year old defendant Khalid Jafri is critically ill in hospital.

While his criminal convictions prevent Anwar from holding political office until 2008, his supporters are not ruling out a political comeback now that he has been vindicated over what were held to be politically motivated and unfounded allegations.

More from BBC HERE
Reuters HERE
CNN HERE
Profile HERE and HERE
AnwarIbrahim.com
Banned Book (translated) HERE
Comment on this case and allegations of police abuse

17.8.05

Latest PCC adjudications


The PPC has rejected a complaint against the Sunday Telegraph that one of its reporters had engaged in subterfuge (in breach of clause 10 of the PCC code) after it was revealed that a Saudi-owned printing firm printed a BNP publication.

The complaint which also claimed that clauses 1 (accuracy) and 2 (right to reply) of the PCC code had been breached, was not upheld.

Details HERE

The PCC also rejected a complaint against the Derby Evening Telegraph that the publication of an address and inclusion of a photograph had been of privacy.

Details HERE

PCC Code HERE

"haggard hooker" sues Sun over Rooney sex romp claim


Grandmother Patricia Tierney is suing the Sun over a story it ran last year claiming she was a 'haggard hooker' who had performed personal services for footballer Wayne Rooney in a Liverpool massage parlour.

The 50 year old who has 7 children and 16 grandchildren was alleged by the Sun to have been known professionally as 'the auld slapper'. Mrs Tierney has confirmed she did work at the massage parlour in question for three weeks in August 2003 but was employed as a receptionist and not engaged in any of the personal services alleged or alluded to.

While the Sun is standing by its story, Mrs Tierney has instructed Kirwans Solicitors to sue the paper for defamation.

Rooney last year admitted having visited massage parlours after various papers accused him of sleeping with prostitutes.

Whether he'll be called as a witness depends on whether the case goes to trial - perhaps that's what the Sun is hoping for as the copy would be well worth the cost!

More HERE and HERE
and from fanzine Redissue ‘Did he shag a granny?’

August 2004
Rooney admits prostitute visits

NEWS BITE >> Press Freedom under threat in Uganda

A proposal for the Ugandan Attorney General to review the country's media laws has been seen as a further affront on democracy and press freedom.
Report from The Monitor HERE

11.8.05

Celebrity Peep Show

German tabloid Bild reports that Beyonce is the latest celebrity to fall victim to having a sneaky sex flick made of them. Rumours were circulating on various US internet sites about a 2 minute tape that was apparently recorded by hidden cameras rigged up in a hotel room she and boyfriend Jay Z had spent a night in a year or so ago. Copies of a news release purporting to be from "New York (AP)" have appeared on various websites and suggest that a lawsuit was filed this week. However a quote attributed to his publicist Jana Fleishman that cites his concern over how his private parts may be percieved in the 2 minute flick do seem to cast a question over the credibility of these latest claims.

Whether these claims turn out to be true remains to be seen but certainly does no harm to the underground market for peddling celebrity sex pics. Cameron Diaz recently won her case against a photographer who'd tried to extort money from her for illicit pics (Mediabeak report HERE )

Perhaps the best known flick to date was the eponymous 'A night in Paris' starring Paris Hilton.

Other celebrities caught on cam include:
Pamela Anderson; Colin Farrell; Jordan; Fred Durst; Gena Lee Nolin; Tonya Harding and of course Abi Titmus

Not all have resulted in major court cases and although celebrities are successfully suing those who invade their privacy, the ease of the internet makes peddling and policing such unsolicited amateur porn a tricky issue.

If you have any information about the truth of these latest rumours be sure to mail mediabeak.
More on these rumours HERE and HERE

9.8.05

Policing Pictures - should the media refrain from showing pictures of terror suspects?

The police this week urged the press not to use pictures of the three suspects appearing in court in connection with the July 21 bomb attacks. Despite the CCTV footage and other evidence, we were told that there could be an issue of identification at trial. So if one were to wrongly picture an accused who turns out to be innocent and not the person caught on CCTV, one would run the risk of being in contempt and a possible defamation action.

The need for caution is clear as the case of Egyptian chemist Magdi al- Nashar demonstrates. He was pictured across the media as being wanted in connection with the July 7 bombings. Following his arrest and investigations in Cairo, he has been released without charge. While he had met two of the bombers, there was no evidence to link him with their or any other terrorist activities. He now fears for his safety when he returns to Britain and rightly points out that less people are likely to be aware of the reason for his release than those who saw his photo alongside headlines relating to the July 7 bombings.

This poses a dilemma for the press and the police. Using pictures helps to track down and warn the public about criminals but once they are caught and the legal process kicks in, the prominence given to the subsequent story is normally less sensational. So one is unlikely to find Mr al Nashar’s picture on the front page with a headline proclaiming his innocence.

Preventing (or asking the media to refrain from) publication of pictures is surely not the answer. It’s how pictures are used that matters, not the fact of their use.

While most news organisations complied with the police’s request, the BBC decided to use the CCTV pictures to identify the accused. This neatly got round the identification issue in that it showed those caught on CCTV as being those appearing in court. If any of the accused successfully raised a challenge of mistaken identity as not being the person caught on camera, then there would be nothing contentious about the BBC showing the CCTV stills as they would not have identified the wrong person, it would be the police who had.

To the extent that the police rely on the press to publish pictures, the press rely on the police to identify the correct people.

So it is right that Sky news is today showing an artist’s impression of one of the suspects, Yassin Hassan Omar. If we allow the use of such pictures for regular criminal trials, why not for terrorism.

The fear of contempt and trial by media should not prevent the media from covering such important trials and their preceding investigations. Faced with being bombed, and being warned by police and a video on Arabic television purporting to be from al Quai’da, that further attacks are inevitable, public interest in these cases could not be greater.

While the press and legal authorities are drawn into a game of cat and mouse over UK contempt laws, the fourth suspect wanted in connection with the July 21 bombings is free to dictate his defence to investigators and the media in Italy. There have been conflicting reports about the evidence or ‘claims’ being made by Osman Hussein or Hamdi Isaac, as he likes to be known in Italy. He has supposedly identified the other suspects from pictures shown to him and told investigators that he didn’t mean to bomb or hurt anyone but just to scare. So is it acceptable to scare innocent commuters and the public as long as you don't blow them up?

As his Italian lawyer, Antonietta Sonnessa stated in an interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, her client is ‘a poor boy on the wrong tracks’. Does that mean he is a ‘lesser’ form of terrorist? Is there such a thing? That is the dilemma facing politicians grappling over new terror legislation.

What is interesting is that be it through the Italian media or through his lawyer, Isaac is able to set out his defence. So when reports appear in the press about what he supposedly confessed to investigators, his lawyer is swift to counter this with her ‘true’ version of her client’s claims. She even resorted to cheap tricks by claiming her client was fighting extradition as he was ‘scared and afraid’ after ‘what happened to the Brazilian’.

With his lawyer playing down the seriousness of the offences alleged against him in the UK and Italian authorities keen to be seen to securing their own trial on terror, extradition may still be far from a done deal. A ‘decisive’ hearing is scheduled for next week but Italian media reports suggest that talk of temporary extradition may be on the cards

Meanwhile the conflicts of laws and interests in the extradition process are being mirrored in rules that apply to and are being prescribed for the press. The foreign media are busily harvesting a ripe crop of comment over in Italy, while the UK press is being cautioned.

This exposes an unsatisfactory state of affairs that neither serves the interests of justice nor the interest of the press.

In this online age where coverage that is prohibited or discouraged in this country is only a mouse-click away on a foreign news site, we need to accept the reality that is trial by media.

The only way to ensure a level playing field is to achieve equality in coverage. Whether newspaper reader or juror, the better the information before you, the more informed a judgement you’ll be able to make. The endemic problem in the UK is that there is an inherent distrust between the press and the legal process.

Its time to break down the barriers and put some trust in juries and the legal process without having to shroud proceedings in an extended veil of contempt. An inquisitive press seeking to provide information for its public should be able to function alongside the due process of law without posing a threat to the system. If not, then it is the system we should examine as much as the press coverage of it.

The secret terror courts are not an answer. Shutting out scrutiny will convince neither the public or civil liberties campaigners that justice is being done.

More discussion on whether pics should be shown HERE and HERE

3.8.05

Silent Witness - media told not to name defendant

Preventing the press from naming names is causing confusion and restricting the open reporting and scrutiny of important decisions.

The media have failed in their bid to be allowed to name a 20 year old woman who was given a 2 year jail term for infecting her former partner with HIV. The South Wales Argus failed in its original bid to be allowed to name the woman and a subsequent application submitted by The Times on behalf of the wider media has now been turned down.

The case raises a number of issues regarding the veil of anonymity family courts are able to cast over proceedings. It was also subject to much inaccurate reporting, which may in turn be attributable to the difficulty in obtaining and being allowed to publish certain facts.

The woman was prosecuted under section 20 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act for having unlawfully inflicted grievous bodily harm. Reports that she was being tried and subsequently jailed for ‘knowingly’ or ‘deliberately’ infecting her partner are wrong. The law under which she was convicted does not require intent but will penalise recklessness. She took a risk having mistakenly assumed it to be difficult to transmit HIV to a man and not wanting to lose him.

The first issue that arises is the relevant law applied in this case. She was not charged under sexual offences legislation but under old established criminal law. While some countries have specific laws relating to passing on HIV, the UK treats this as a variation of the standard GBH offence. She is the sixth person and first woman in the UK to be prosecuted for having transmitted HIV.

Earlier this year two men failed to have their sentences of 4.5 and 10 years for recklessly infecting a woman with HIV overturned on appeal. The law being developed in such cases appears to be placing a duty on those who are HIV positive to disclose this to their sexual partners.

According to a report carried out for GNP+ and the Terrence Higgins Trust, there have been around 130 prosecutions across Europe for such offences. These cases are causing concern amongst campaigners that such prosecutions could stigmatise those with HIV and, in certain circumstances, conflict with human rights laws. This was reflected in a Home Office report in 2000 that indicated the Government was not keen to specifically criminalise sexual transmission of HIV.

So we are dealing with a sensitive and potentially controversial issue that requires public debate and scrutiny.

The second important issue that arises from this is the rationale for restricting media coverage by preventing identification of the woman convicted.

Some reports suggest that an order relating to care proceedings involving her children extends anonymity to her. Others state that the restriction is to protect the identity of the victim.


So why are the media being restricted.

The suggestion that the ban is to protect the victim is somewhat bizarre (unless one or more children were his and the order therefore extended to prevent his identification leading to theirs). If the case had been treated as a sexual offence, then consistent with other offences such as rape, he would be entitled to anonymity. If they were both juveniles then restrictions could be applied on identifying the victim, witnesses or ‘vulnerable people’. However the case was a criminal one of GBH to which such restrictions would not normally apply.

In relation to children, the family courts have the power to restrict reporting and prevent identification of not just children but also adults in relation to care proceedings.

The rationale is to protect children from unwanted attention or publicity that could affect their welfare or upbringing. The problem with the powers the family courts have and which were used in refusing the application to name the woman, is that range of powers the courts have under various legislation, are far-reaching and overused.

Whether in care proceedings, or as in this case, wishing to identify someone who has been convicted of an offence and locked up in jail, the veil of anonymity the courts can cast over proceedings prevents proper scrutiny and reporting. While it is vital to protect the welfare and interests of children, maintaining their anonymity does not, in every case, have to extend to restrictions over reporting large parts of the proceedings or the adults involved.

Given the widespread publicity surrounding this case and the fact she is well known locally, it is hard to see how naming the woman would directly identify and put at risk the children in this case.

It is regrettable that the media are again being prevented from being able to fully report on a case that requires further debate.


Further information:

Home Office Consultation Paper
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/docs/invmans.html

GNP+ / THT Report
http://www.tht.org.uk/policy/policy_pdfs/criminalisationeurope.pdf

1.8.05

Terror reporting and contempt

As the clampdown on terror and quest to bring those responsible to justice continues, the media are being warned that their high-profile exposés of the suspects could be hampering the legal process. As the Sun reliably informed us, we may have ‘Got the Bastards’ but now that we have, we have to respect their human rights and ensure that they are afforded a fair trial.

This seems perverse given that those suspected of terrorist atrocities have shown no respect for the human lives taken and no regard for the society and justice process that is meant to deliver a fair trial. This poses a dilemma for both prosecutors and the press who may share the same aims but have to operate under different game plans in a bid to bring terrorists to justice.

Liberty and other human rights groups are concerned that in the wake of ongoing arrests and the interrogation of the suspected bombers, media coverage may be prejudicing their rights to fair treatment and a fair trial. They have called upon the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith to formally caution the media. His office has commented that they are already monitoring media output and will ensure that any trials are fair.

So what’s unfair about informing the public about the successful capture of those believed to have carried out bombings? While it would appear that at least one of the suspects was able to slip into the country on a bogus asylum application and out on the luxury of Eurostar, once someone is arrested for an offence, the law of contempt applies.

The 1981 Contempt of Court Act provides that from the time of arrest legal proceedings are deemed to be ‘active’ and publishing something that could create a real risk of prejudice in relation to these proceedings amounts to contempt. It doesn’t matter if one intends what is printed to be prejudicial, the fact of publication constitutes the offence. Even where proceedings are not yet active, an offence of common law contempt may still arise if one intentionally publishes something prejudicial when proceedings are imminent or can be contemplated.

In other words, now that suspects have been arrested, the media should be careful what it prints or broadcasts.

To refer to Hussein Osman, or ‘Hamdi Issac’, or whatever other name he may choose to go by as a ‘suicide bomber’ or ‘terrorist’ could prejudice his right to a fair trial and even be contempt of court.

So what is the law trying to protect? The rationale behind contempt laws is to ensure that the justice process is not impeded and that those appearing in court can be assured a fair trial free from prejudice. Its all about equality before the law and in criminal cases, being innocent until proven guilty.

The real concern in the context of terrorism is that the jury, whether they read the Sun or get their news from Google, will have been fed so much information by the media that they are convinced of a suspect’s guilt before their trial begins. No matter what gets printed in the press, when it comes to court, the prosecution still has to make out its case against the defendant. In this context, it will be their evidence and argument before the court that should convince the jury whether to convict or acquit. So why are we concerned? If the system works then the jury will make their decision based on what they’ve heard in court rather than what was printed in their papers.

What the legal system is perhaps not prepared to admit and what human rights lawyers are concerned about are two potential pitfalls in the system. First, the problems inherent in the jury system, no matter how much a juror will ignore the media, when presented with a trial of terror, it will be very difficult not to be emotive. So they may decide to convict on evidence to which they have reacted in the same way as they did the reports they read in the press. While there may seem nothing wrong with that, this leads to the second serious pitfall. If convicted, the suspect may then try to appeal on the basis that they have not had a fair trial. They would argue that because of the media coverage and emotions of the public, there is no way the jury could have been fair.

This is precisely what Hussein Osman is trying to do as he fights extradition from Italy. His lawyer, Antonietta Sonnessa has already confirmed this amid claims that his intention had only been to scare and not kill. So media reports about him being one of the bombers who tried to kill could be seen as prejudicial when it comes to the finer points of legal argument. It remains to be seen how effective the European arrest warrant is in bringing him back to Britain. It will not just be the warrant system that is tested but the public’s faith in the process and politics that allow free movement of terrorists but restricts transfer of suspects.

While we worry about contempt in the UK, Italy’s media seem to being fed a string of confessions from Mr Osman. What would be contempt here is not there and this poses yet a further challenge for both the press and the process. It is perhaps ironic that he wants to stay in Italy where evidence that could not be printed in the UK is hitting the headlines.

Whether viewed under European, UK or Italian legislation, the law still needs to find a way to catch up with reporting crime in the digital age. Osman was trapped by tracing his phone calls but it could be contempt for a UK news organisation to publish certain details via WAP over the same network. While we are busily introducing successive lots of terrorism laws, we have not sought consensus on how such terror should be reported.

Technology means that the public is now far more involved with the media. It was the public who provided most of the images in the wake of the London bombings and to whom the police also appealed for footage.

Seeing suspects cornered on their balcony sends out an important message that those responsible for terrorism are being caught. What is needed is a measured rather than muted response from the media. While dozens are detained in orange suits in Guantanamo with little evidence or information, the evidence and cctv footage in relation to the London suspects provides for more certainty as to their actions and identity.

For a public subjected to terror and concerned about safety, the semantics of the legal system offer little solace and make little sense.

There may be a need to temper the views expressed by some of the press but that should not be at the expense of delivering the news and information which the public has a right to know. The public may not have been involved in the political agenda that is being blamed for terror but they are involved in the carnage such terror has created. This is creating shared experiences and consciousness which result in a new level of coverage and debate in the media. It would be wrong to restrain such engagement. While the Attorney General keeps a watchful eye on the UK press, its time to review the laws under which it operates to ensure that a free press can operate alongside a robust legal system that defends both the right to fair trials and free expression in equal measure.

More:
Antonietta Sonnessa HERE
The arrest in Italy HERE
Contempt of Court procedural guide HERE
More on the Act HERE and recent case HERE