Tag Archives: court reporting

Twitter, journalists and court coverage: where to draw the line?

There was an interesting discussion going on at Cardiff University today, as Darren Waters, a social media producer in the BBC Wales newsroom, joined students for a discussion on community which, according to the hashtag on Twitter (#cjscomm), included a topical discussion on the issue of immediacy in online reporting.

Recent events, specifically in relation to court coverage, have demonstrated the issues this can raise for journalists and news outlets working in the online environment, with the pressure and power of immediate publication at their fingertips. Earlier this month several news outlets mistakenly reported that Amanda Knox’s conviction for the murder of Meredith Kercher had been upheld, when the judge was in fact returning a guilty verdict for a charge of slander. The murder conviction was overturned, but once the word “guilty” had been heard several news organisations quickly sent out their stories and the Guardian made the same mistake on its liveblog.

Another specific challenge related to this is the delivery and sharing of breaking news on platforms such as Twitter, where journalists face making important decisions of when to share certain information and when to hold back.

In December last year England and Wales’ most senior judge published new guidelines which gave journalists greater freedom to file live reports and Twitter updates from court. As I write this a number of journalists are covering the Vincent Tabak trial live, with the issue of what a journalist should and shouldn’t report from a court case (and the wider approach to using Twitter) being simultaneously highlighted in the Cardiff University discussion.






Follow the hashtag to read more from the debate and advice offered by Waters. And feel free to tell us what you think. Where should the line be drawn in court reporting, especially during the hearing of detailed evidence, and what considerations should journalists make before pressing the button to submit? Share your thoughts in the comments below or via Twitter @journalismnews.

Newspaper Society welcomes call for scrapping of media access to family court plans

The Newspaper Society today (21 July) issued a statement to say it welcomed the conclusions of a justice committee report that called for government to scrap the provisions in the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010, which would allow media access to family courts.

The committee report was actually published last week, but in an article today, the society claims the provisions, if brought into force as they stand, “would have resulted in a renewed regime of secrecy – instead of opening up the family courts, as originally intended”.

The NS had said this “will not only fail to deliver the desired public accountability but will represent a major reduction in what can now be lawfully published and will actually further reduce public debate and discussion of the family justice system”.

However, the society added that it is “disappointed” at what it claims is an impression given by the report that “the desire for greater openness and accountability in the family justice system, and that of preserving privacy for the families involved, particularly children, are positions which are necessarily polarised”.

Sue Oake, senior legal adviser at the Newspaper Society, said: “The media has repeatedly stressed that it entirely accepts the need to ensure anonymity for the children and families concerned and we are disappointed that once again this does not appear to have been sufficiently acknowledged.”

BBC: West Midlands Police Tweet from court

The BBC reported today that West Midlands Police sent members of staff to Birmingham Magistrates’ Court to Tweet cases during the course of the morning.

Ch Supt Stephen Anderson said there had been a decline in court reporting in recent years.

He said the initiative was designed to make the public more aware of the cases police deal with.

The force sent its own staff into court for a morning on Tuesday to cover the cases and post them online minutes after they had concluded.

See the full BBC report here…

Are newspapers still sending people to cover court on a regular basis or are only the high profile cases covered?

Lord Chief Justice backs use of technology in court reporting

The Lord Chief Justice has said that he supports the use of technology in court reporting.

“My fervent hope is that the advance of new technology will make it easier for the media to be ‘present’ in court, and that the present trend for fewer and fewer reporters in every court will come to an end,” Lord Judge said in a speech entitled ‘the judiciary and the media’, delivered in Jerusalem on Monday.

“It is now possible, as you know, for a contemporaneous report of what is being said to be put up on a television screen as the words are spoken, or more realistically, three or four seconds after they have been spoken,” he added in discussing the use of Twitter and live text in court reporting, which is currently under consultation.

“Whatever the result of the consultation, and whatever guidance is promulgated after its conclusion, I have no doubt that it will have to be re-visited, and re-visited again,” Lord Judge said.

Editors and judges should also have a working relationship, Lord Judge argued, “so that if for example it appears that a judge in his sentencing remarks has said something outrageous or absurd, at least before this goes into print, it can be checked that he has indeed said that which was attributed to him, or that if he did, there was a context which explains it.

“A record of what the judge actually said should be made available. In that way what might be a misguided headline is avoided. On the other hand, if the judge did indeed utter a remark which, whatever the context, was absurd or stupid or revealing a prejudice, why then, it should be reported, and criticised for absurdity, stupidity or prejudice.”

Newspaper Society: New law for family court will cause ‘regime of secrecy’

The Newspaper Society has presented a submission to the House of Commons’ Justice Select Committee, claiming that reporting restrictions within the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010 that aim to protect privacy within family court proceedings will result in a “regime of secrecy”.

The select committee announced it would carry out an inquiry into confidentiality and openness in family courts – partly in light of the new legislation and invited submissions from interested parties. In its submission the Newspaper Society claims the Act will place more restrictions on the press and not allow for greater public confidence in the system:

The NS says that although the media warmly supported the previous government’s aim of increasing openness and transparency and improving public confidence in the family justice system, its conclusion, regretfully, is that the Act will not achieve this.

(…) The NS points out that the Act’s effect is apparently to make it a contempt of court to publish any article referring to family proceedings, even if derived entirely from material already in the public domain and even if the parties were not identified, if the publication was not derived from an “authorised news report”.

Reporting on its submission the Newspaper Society added that the complexity of the Act may also deter press coverage altogether, concluding:

[T]hat the intention of increased transparency has been lost in the Act’s drafting, that the aim of achieving privacy for the families has been conflated into a renewed regime of secrecy which – if the relevant provisions in the Act are brought into force unamended – will not only fail to deliver the desired public accountability but will represent a major reduction in what can now be lawfully published, and will actually further reduce public debate and discussion of the family justice system.

Journalism 2.0: The pros and cons of liveblogging trials

Mark Briggs compares and contrasts the use of liveblogging to cover two different trials: the first in 2007 covered by the Bakersfield Californian; the second by Jason Trahan over the past year for the Dallas Morning News:

Trahan used his laptop and iPhone to cover the trial via a closed-circuit feed in an overflow room at the courthouse. The Dallas Bar Association specifically praised his trial blog coverage when handing him an award for legal reporting, and he also was named the paper’s 2009 Beat Reporter of the Year.

He said blogging throughout the day forced him to be more mentally focused during testimony, which then allowed him to “mine” from his blog entries at the end of the day while writing his newspaper stories.

Full post at this link…

Headlines and Deadlines: Public service reporting, court coverage and charging online

Alison Gow brings together two current areas of debate for local media groups: charging for online content and their supposed role in local democracy by scrutinising local authorities in their coverage.

Gow, who is involved in Trinity Mirror’s work with the Press Association regarding a potential ‘public service reporting’ initiative in Merseyside, has audited the TM titles in her region to assess the number of public authority reports carried by the papers on a weekly basis.

Where the gaps in coverage lie makes for interesting reading, but addition Gow asks:

“Readers may pay to access other services alongside news, but I just don’t see news itself as a big enough lure.

“Also, just to take this argument to the extreme, if newspapers are going to hold themselves up as the moral guardians of what’s right, scrutinising public bodies and holding them to account, is it ethical that they charge for this benevolent service at all?”

Full post at this link…

Independent.co.uk: Online ‘made a mockery of High Court’ in Baby P case

“The rules which should have prevented online publication are governed by an outdated piece of legislation enacted at a time when Parliament could not have comprehended what a website might be, never mind know how one might work in the context of the criminal law,” writes the Independent’s law editor, Robert Verkaik.

Verkaik is referring to the transgression of reporting restrictions, which banned the identification of Baby P’s mother and stepdad, by bloggers, online forum users and Facebook groups. The restrictions were officially lifted this week.

“There then appears to be a double standard at work, where the law is incapable of punishing flagrant breaches of court orders by internet transgressors while imposing draconian sentences on the mainstream media for committing much less serious breaches. The internet was born into a lawless cyberspace and has little respect for the fusty orders of the High Court.”

Full article at this link…