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Media release: New edition of McNae’s to launch at NCTJ seminar

February 22nd, 2012 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Legal, Training

The 21st edition of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists will be launched next month, at the NCTJ’s media law seminar.

According to a release from the NCTJ, the new edition of the media law book includes a further look at issues such as:

… new coverage of broadcast regulation; new material on privacy and the media, including injunctions and phone hacking; new guidance on journalists’ use of social media; and further coverage of online journalism issues.

The book is authored by Mark Hanna and Mike Dodd, the release adds, who “will present and discuss these changes with tutors at the seminar”.

Press Complaints Commission chairman Lord Hunt will give the keynote speech at the London-based media law seminar on 30 March. According to the NCTJ, he will be giving “his views on the Leveson inquiry and the future of press regulation”.

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Brian Cathcart: Sun and Mirror contempt case may make editors think twice

There is good piece by Brian Cathcart on the Index on Censorship site, in which he predicts that Dominic Grieve’s prosecution of the Sun and the Mirror over their coverage of the arrest of Chris Jefferies may make editors think twice about casually flouting contempt of court laws.

The Contempt of Court Act of 1981 prohibits all but the most straightforward reporting in a crime case from the moment “proceedings are active”, in other words once someone is arrested. The idea is to ensure that coverage does not interfere with the course of justice, for instance by prejudicing the eventual jury. But for years, when a big, competitive story came along, many editors and reporters in national media simply ignored the Act and continued to publish often grotesque allegations about a suspect after arrest and even sometimes after they were charged. Think Colin Stagg, Barry George,Karen Matthews and others — and Stagg and George were later shown to be innocent.

That may be about to change thanks to the actions of the attorney-general, Dominic Grieve. Not normally a man to cut the figure of a hero — a lean, bookish type, he was last seen filibustering awkwardly in the Commons when the government was under pressure over its links with the Murdochs — Grieve has done something genuinely brave. He has prosecuted the Daily Mirror and the Sun for contempt of court in the Chris Jefferies case, and he has won.

Read the full article at this link.

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What was ‘first’ about tweeting from the Julian Assange bail hearing?

December 15th, 2010 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Legal

There was a great deal of excitement amongst media commentators and Twitterers during the bail hearing of WikiLeaks’ editor Julian Assange. As if Assange’s second bail attempt wasn’t enough of a news story, the judge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court gave permission for those watching in the court – specifically the Times’ special correspondent Alexi Mostrous – to tweet from court. Mostrous and journalist Heather Brooke’s updates from the scene were fascinating to follow:

There is no statutory ban on tweeting form court, as the Guardian’s Siobhain Butterworth explains in this excellent piece from July:

The Contempt of Court Act 1981 does not allow sound recordings to be made without the court’s permission. It’s also an offence to take photographs or make sketches (in court) of judges, jurors and witnesses – although the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 says that doesn’t apply to the supreme court. Since there isn’t a statutory ban on creating text by means of electronic devices, it surprises me that journalists and bloggers haven’t already lobbied British judges about reporting directly from the courtroom.

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk, barrister and former government lawyer Carl Gardner explained that there is the idea that jurors should not Twitter, “which raises particular issues of its own”.

What I think the courts don’t want is people using devices that make noises, or typing constantly, or even getting messages that make them keep getting up all the time. That I think is the reason for the normal court etiquette of switching off phones (silencing isn’t good enough; as in cinemas, people forget and trials end up being disrupted). So if a judge was sure people could tweet silently and that it wouldn’t disrupt proceedings, it wouldn’t amaze me if he/she permitted it.

I think tweeting from court could be a good development – subject to certain restrictions, such as jurors not looking at Twitter while on a case. I worry a bit though that it’s an unsatisfactory half-way house to transparency, though. People can tweet misleadingly and selectively, even without meaning to. For live cases of special interest like Julian Assange, what we really need is televised justice. Good reporting will do for cases of less immediate interest.

Claims that yesterday’s tweeting from the Assange hearing was a first in UK courts need a bit of explaining. It may well have been the first time a magistrate or judge has expressly given permission – although it was in response to a question from Mostrous and not an unprompted declaration. Several legal commentators I have spoken with suggest this, but it is difficult to track and the Justice Department, on the face of it, does not seem to keep a database of such decisions.

As there is currently no statutory ban, there have been previous occurrences of live-tweeting court cases in the UK. Ben Kendall, crime correspondent for the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News, for example, tweeted from within the courtroom when covering the John Moody murder trial in August. As he told Journalism.co.uk, he didn’t ask the judge for permission to tweet as there’s no ban, he has a good relationship with the court and “figured they’d pull me up on it if there was a problem”.

But Assange’s hearing was a significant case to be allowed to tweet from nonetheless – but what are the pitfalls and benefits of live-tweeting judicial proceedings? The UK Human Rights blog has this to say:

Despite its sophistication, in an ordinary case with no reporting restrictions in place, tweeting does not, on the face of it, pose any danger to the administration of justice. Rather, the ability for people to produce a live feed of selected information from a hearing could improve public understanding of the justice system. But it is by no means an ideal channel through which to communicate details of a complicated hearing.

It is unsurprising that the case of an man credited with improving transparency in government (while causing headaches for diplomats, soldiers and spies) could result in a watershed for the use of social networking in court. Perhaps the slow but steady opening up to social media by judges will eventually lead to a softening of the attitudes towards live video feeds. And that would mark a huge improvement for open justice.

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edwalker.net: How to overturn a section 39 order in court

December 10th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

A useful post from journalist Ed Walker about how to appeal against and overturn a section 39 order – issued by courts to protect children involved in cases from being identified – from Ed’s first-hand experience of fighting a ruling banning the reporting of the name of a child in a murder case

Full post on Ed Walker’s blog at this link…

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Press Gazette: Freelancer in libel case represented by Carter-Ruck

December 8th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

An update from Press Gazette on the libel fight of freelance journalist Hardeep Singh, which reports that the freelancer is being represented by high-profile law firm Carter-Ruck – better known for its work elsewhere…

In October the High Court in London granted Indian national His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh ji Maharaj the right to appeal in his libel case against Singh.

Singh was sued by His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh ji Maharaj, the head of a fringe Sikh religious institution, for an article published in the Sikh Times in 2007. The piece written by Singh called Jeet Singh “an accused cult leader” and alleged that his teachings were not in line with mainstream Sikh doctrine.

The case was thrown out by Justice Eady in May 2010, who ruled for a permanent stay with no right to appeal. In May Singh said the case had already cost him “in excess of £90,000″.

Full story on Press Gazette at this link…

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Australian journalism academic asked by newspaper editor to apologise for tweets

Australian journalism lecturer Julie Posetti has received a letter from the lawyer of the Australian newspaper’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, asking for an apology for tweets which he claims were defamatory of him.

Journalism.co.uk reported earlier this week that Mitchell had threatened Posetti with legal action for defamation following tweets posted by Posetti in relation to comments made by former reporter for the Australian Asa Wahlquist about working at the title.

Posetti has since confirmed on Facebook that she received a “letter of demand” from Mitchell’s lawyer. The Australian reported on its blog that Mitchell has invited Posetti to visit the offices of the paper to “observe its operations for herself”.

Mitchell’s offer is contained in a legal letter send to Posetti yesterday, as part of the defamation proceedings that have become known as ‘#Twitdef’.

The letter, which has also been published by the Australian, adds that it is “immaterial” whether or not the quotes within the tweets were said.

The fact is they were published by you on an occasion which does not attract a defence and it is obvious from the above facts and email they are patently false.

In the circumstances, our client offers you an opportunity to correct the record by publishing (in agreed manner) a correction, and perhaps meeting with him, to discuss the matter.

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Yahoo News: WikiLeaks embassy cables release prompts new ‘whistleblower bill’

December 1st, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

The leak of the US embassy cables by WikiLeaks is prompting new legislation in the US that would give employees in sensitive government jobs a way to report corruption or mismanagement.

The “whistleblower bill” will discourage leaks of classified information say its supporters. The bill is likely to pass through the approval process quickly, Yahoo News reports

Following WikiLeaks’ pulibcation of the Afghanistan war logs in July US senators Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein began hastily drafting an amendment to a current piece of legislation designed to protect journalists’ sources to ensure that WikiLeaks could not be included. The amendement declared that the bill would “only extend only to traditional news-gathering activities and not to websites that serve as a conduit for the mass dissemination of secret documents”.

Full story on Yahoo News at this link.

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Reuters: Google forced to pay €5,000 damages to former convict over search suggestions

September 27th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal, Search

Google has been ordered by a French court to pay €5,000 damages to a former convict after the search engine suggested words including “rape”, “rapist” and “prison” when his name was typed.

According to the report, the claimant, who has not been named, served time in prison after being convicted of corrupting a minor.

Google has said it will appeal the decision, which was published earlier this month, according to Reuters’ report.

The man argued that the words produced by the suggestion function on the search engine were damaging to his reputation.

Full story from Reuters at this link…

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Reporters Without Borders joins Le Monde in complaint against Sarkozy’s office

September 22nd, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has announced it will become a joint plaintiff in a complaint filed by French newspaper Le Monde, which accuses government officials of violating new legislation intended to protect the secrecy of journalists’ sources.

Le Monde claims that an intelligence service was used by the French President’s office to identify a source used in a story on L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt and donations made to President Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign.

Full story on RSF at this link…

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New survey looks at independent online publishers’ experiences of media law

September 20th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Legal

Last month former Journalism.co.uk reporter Judith Townend conducted a survey into UK independent online publishers’ experience of media law.

It’s worth reading the findings from 71 respondents in full, especially the answers from participants on how they get legal advice and help. For independent sites (or those with a staff of fewer than 10) the reasons behind setting up the site have a strong influence on how they handle with legal complaints, as one publisher explained:

One publisher said a potentially tricky problem went away without any response on their part, after they were contacted by a company that had been the subject of a user’s comment on the site: “Chose to play dead and not respond to [the email] and wait and see… [we] would have removed item if legally threatened – not close enough to our own cause to be worth a big fight. Have heard no more though.”

For those writing for a campaigning purpose or who are highly critical of others in their writing, legal issues aren’t going to deter them from continuing their fight, it seems. For others, libel, copyright and other issues haven’t yet been a problem because their subject matter or publishing style hasn’t yet caused these conflicts.

Many others use a network of peers and through social media to source legal pointers and advice, often avoiding costly fees. But there’s a sense from respondents that this ad hoc approach, while useful, may not stand greater legal stress or develop as quickly as a publisher’s own needs.

Full survey results are available on Meeja Law at this link…

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