It’s a while back now but I can still well remember when I spent almost every working night talking with media lawyers.
Checking stories for potential defamatory comment, police and court reports for sub judice and contempt of court issues, suppression orders. Might need to check every so often that weren’t scandalising parliament. Yeah, it’s apparently possible, believe it or not.
Ran up a fair old bill, if memory serves right, but that might have been a lot more had things gone belly-up. Which was always a possibility, even with the best efforts of sharp journos.
Information tendered to the media might be incorrect. Comments might be false. Right of reply might not be sufficient. Other things could aggravate a bung story. Story positioning in the paper was important, page one carries more risk than down page on 26. Headlines needed to considered carefully.
You didn’t want to be too cautious, though. You were selling news after all and trying to keep the reading public aware of what happens on their turf. So you often weighed calculated versus unacceptable risk. Public interest, fair and accurate reporting and all that.
Odd thing about defamation, to my mind, was that people who argued their reputation had been ridiculed, vilified or otherwise mangled up by some report could always be appeased with a public apology and a fat monetary payout, with the emphasis on the latter.
Saying sorry was good but money was better. Which raise the obvious question of what a reputation is worth if you think you can buy it back again after it’s been damaged beyond repair. It’s a conundrum,
Bit of the same, again to my mind, in the way courts deal with sub judice. The idea is that prior convictions and information relating to an offender/offence should not be detailed before a court case. Juries might be Influenced.
Okay but judges would never own up to such shortcomings themselves. Mind you, you could still find yourself in strife if you crossed the line in a judge-only case.
It’s an odd system, Australia’s court system. It actively works to prevent juries knowing too much about a defendant’s background. Each case has to be viewed in isolation.
It’s different in some European court systems where juries get all sorts of information to digest: prior convictions and hearsay, for instance. Lawyer theatrics aren’t allowed. The idea is that the more information they have the mire accurate a ruling they’ll come to.
It’s a throwback to the Napoleonic era and some Aussie lawyers pooh-pooh it with contempt. Others again, however, argue the Aussie system treats jurors as dummies so thick they can’t distil evidence, patterns, background information – and so they’re kept in the dark.
What you may have noticed in recent years is that Aussies papers have been stretching the limits of what they think they can get away with reporting. The George Pell case is a prime example.
The $1 million penalty dished out for contempt of court – for breaching a suppression order – highlighted the risk of playing your circulation booster versus coughing up potential fines. There’s no denying the media knew what they doing, and that they paid the prosecution’s cost, but their apology was slammed for lacking remorse and contrition.
Makes you wonder about the Logie performance of TV’s Lisa Wilkinson, which carefully distanced itself from anything and everything in Journalism 101. I thought for a bit she was trying to get the bloke off by banging on about the case in front of some 800,000 viewers.
Might sound at odds with everything else she’s done with the story to date but if you wanted to get the case shut down, that’s pretty much how you’d do it. Tell me how this bloke’s meant to get a fair trial in our peculiar judicial system. Wilkinson had been warned as much, and had even earlier tweeted to that effect herself.
The Australian’s cartoonist Johannes Leak wrapped things about as clearly as many of Wilkinson’s critics will see the matter. As he might not be far off the mark.
Whatever way you want to look at it, now the case is months off again. Fair case of justice delayed becoming justice denied I’d suggest.
In the meantime, we’re stuck with the case being adjudicated in that lynch-mob court of public opinion where media lawyer advice isn’t worth two-bob. But it’s certainly where the entitled woke brigade are happy to accept a kangaroo court ruling.