Tag Archives: Attorney General

Trinidad’s tabloids scream loudly, but Barbados’ press could do with some balls

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV. Previous posts looked at the Caricom Summit held July 2-5 in Georgetown. Trinidad and Barbados were the final stops.

After experiencing Guyanese ‘journalism’ during the Caricom summit, any order is better. In Trinidad, there is much economic prosperity due to oil and natural gas: ‘What recession?’ they ask here. The economy is healthy but the society has some of the fissures of Guyana.

Trinidad politics
Indians were brought here in thousands as indentured labourers to replace the freed black slaves one hundred and seventy years ago. They live in the south of the island, the African Trinidadians in the North. They have much of the wealth, the prime minister and his ruling PNM party are black and have the political power.

There is much violent crime – especially kidnappings and murders – and that is the staple fare of the super tabloids who make up the Trinidad & Tobago newspaper market. The Guardian, the Express and Newsday are much the same. Screaming headlines on the cover but much content inside. They are big in pagination and include lots of classified ads.

Politics gets a big shout and through that the racial dimension. The leader of the opposition (at the moment) Basdeo Panday is Indo-Trinidadian. He was prime minister until 2001 but was driven from office for alleged corruption. Today his UNC is breaking into bits.

His former attorney general Ramesh Marhaj is leading a ginger group/internal opposition within the party together with another MP – Jack Warner, who runs football in this part of the world, is vice-chair of FIFA and has been the subject of critical investigations on British TV about his dodgy behaviour in that job.

Warner’s son sold the travel packages and tickets for Trinidadians to the to the 2006 World Cup. Panday wants Warner to account for $30m (T&T) of election expenses. Warner says it was money he gave the party so no need to account. This makes the British MPs look tame.

Columnists abound on the pages of the T&T press. Different races. All have views. Many far too prolix for the page. Sub-editing is not a craft that seems to have been found in the Southern Caribbean. But the three dailies and the local TV news programmes – sadly also divided on racial lines – make for lively reading and listening. Crime sells. They certainly put the fear of God into the bank manager cousin with whom I was staying.

Keeping awake in Barbados
Not so Barbados. The problem here for a journalist is keeping awake. The best description for the Barbados Nation and Advocate? Stodgy, boring, dull. They make the Bedworth Advertiser look interesting. Boring headlines and even duller stories. It is like reading a parish newsletter for a nation.

The ‘news’ is based on government news conferences and other press conferences by NGOs and the like. On such sexy subjects like polyclinics, insurance and diabetes. Again, writing is prolix and not of great quality.

Barbados is a very polite and ordered society (the murder rate is a fraction of Trinidad’s) and that shows in its press. The hacks need to get themselves some more balls. The TV news is not much better.

There we have it. Prosperity, tabloid culture, Little England and the news values of British suburbia. Funny how they all travel. But Blighty calls.

[Release] PHR: Forensic conflicts over death of video-journalist Brad Will

The Physician for Human Rights (PHR) restates its case that American video-journalist Brad Will, who died of gunshot wounds while covering protests in Oaxaca in October 2006, was hit by a ricochet bullet in the chest, supporting the theory of longer-range gunshots.

Mexico’s Attorney General (PGR) claims Will was killed by gunshots from within his immediate vicinity. Full release…

RSF: Two cyber journalist jailings and five million websites blocked in Iran

Two cyber journalists are now in detention in Iran, further evidence of internet clampdown in the country. On November 19 the Tehran attorney-general’s adviser confirmed that the authorities were responsible for censoring five million websites.

Naming Baby P is not about giving into a Facebook campaign

Naming Baby P and his mother is not about giving into a hysterical Facebook campaign group; this is about confronting the reality of the online age.

I can’t link to it here, because it would be breaching reporting restrictions, but I know Baby P’s name, the baby’s mother’s name and the name of her partner.

So does anyone with even a little bit of Google cache savvy about them: it’s on a BBC report from 2007. Google cache preserves a page even if, as the BBC has done, original articles have been removed.

As the Independent reported, Facebook groups have published the details, despite the court order not to.

My argument is not about revealing the names for justice, it is about having a law which can actually be enforced.

If it had been reported abroad, on non-UK websites, they would be not be held accountable under the UK Contempt of Court legislation. Court orders, such as the one in this case protecting the names of the defendants, are simply not feasible in the web age.

I believe that whatever ensures fair trials without prejudice, protects the innocent people involved in the case (other people connected or in the family, for example) is necessary, and if keeping the names secret does that, then that should be done: I certainly won’t be joining any Facebook group to force their disclosure.

But it should be done in such a way where they really are secret, which has not happened in this case:

Jason Owen’s name is known; the mother’s name has also been previously published and is reachable with a quick search; the baby’s photograph is in the press.

One of the Facebook groups has a description reading: ‘For sum [sic] reason the press have seen it fit not to reveal the sick people who killed this poor helpless child.’

The press has not chosen to keep quiet (they certainly would print the names if they could); they are bound by law not to. But what happens when the wider community who have not been taught about reporting restrictions and contempt of court choose to publish, using blogs and social network sites?

I imagine that most people in that community, and wider geography, knows who the family are. Last night’s BBC Panorama showed that the research team were able to access things the mother wrote on social networking sites.

Yet the names cannot be disclosed by the British press without contravening the Contempt of Court Act. This means that disclosures are made through people who aren’t necessarily so concerned about, or even think about, media ethics or face any kind of editorial process.

As I reported in September, Bob Satchwell from the Society of Editors believes the legislation is out of date and redundant, as do many others.

Orders, such as those under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, for example, allow a court to ban publication of specific information, in addition to statutory reporting restrictions. But how on earth to enforce this in an online world?

This is starkly proven in the case of Baby P.

It’s time to readdress our laws, as Satchwell has urged the Attorney General, and make trials really fair.

Postscript: I’ve just found Martin Belam’s blog post, which makes a similar point, and also focuses on the ‘sheer scale of useage of the internet’ in the UK as compared to 2000 when Victoria Climbié case was reported, for example.

Lord Falconer’s plan to remove news from online archives during trials is unworkable

Former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, told the BBC yesterday he believed articles relating to high-profile court cases should be removed from online news archives so as to not prejudice the outcome of trials.

In addition to this change to the law he not only suggested that should news publishers refused to comply “it would be very strong evidence they’d committed contempt”, even more bizarrely he told Radio 4’s Law in Action programme that the Attorney General should determine to which few cases this should apply.

With this proclamation Lord Falconer has added a further staggering example of the gulf between what is presumed about the web and how it actually works.

He was talking about The Contempt of Court Act 1981, which prevents the publication of anything that creates a ‘substantial risk of serious prejudice’ to a court case. This comes into action when proceeding become ‘active’, that is to say a person has been arrested and charged for an offence or a warrant has been issued for arrest.

During this time news outlets are only allowed to report certain simple factual elements of the case. If reporting during the trail then what has been said in court, rather than any additional information, can be published.

In the period prior to this and after the conclusion of the trail reporters are at liberty to transgress the rule, in fact, it no longer applies. It’s articles written prior to this ‘active’ period that Lord Falconer wants removed from archives temporarily in the run up and during the trail.

I have to ask whether during the critical thinking that fed his idea it was considered how different it would be for a news aficionado to trawl newspaper web archives for old stories about court cases than to order old editions through the post or hop on the bus to the archive or a library to look the print stories up in person? Has a paper ever been held in contempt for offering an archive service?

A juror wanting to find out more about the case can pretty much do that at the moment if they are keen enough. The problem would seem to be one inside the courtroom rather than outside if a wayward juror actively sought additional information and began casting judgements based on information beyond the facts as they are laid out to them in court.

This active pursuit is the problem. Not the publication. It’s unlikely that someone will incidentally come across extra information. That person would have to engage and search for it. They would have to trawl newspaper achieves or get deep into Google News, as it only throws up results from the previous month in a straightforward search.

It would be impossible to police too. Removing information from news sites would be time consuming enough but what about easily obtainable stories on foreign sites? You’d have to block access to them somehow. Links in email and blogs? What about search engine’s holding mirrored versions of articles? What about précised versions on blogs, on message boards and the wildfire spread of that content once you try to have it removed as the knee-jerk response of the blogosphere to anything that could be misconstrued as censorship kicks in.

Lord Falconer’s assertion that the Attorney General could determine which cases this rule should apply also is baffling. Shouldn’t a suspected stationary thief in Barnstable be afforded the same right to a fair trail as an alleged abductor of children? Shouldn’t it be a law for all, if at all? It seems not.

His idea may be unworkable but it’s something of a moot point anyway, seeing as he’s not the man who makes the decisions anymore on matter like this.

However, he may have inadvertently stumbled on an issue though. What about related news stories thrown up on news sites by some automated process? A link to an older story connected to an online news piece about an ongoing trail? Could these links create a passive access to prejudicial news? Is it that the same process as before: actively seeking out news? Or is an automated link not publishing?

And what about comments? You’d hope that comments on stories like these would be pre-moderated or turned off.