Introduction: Presenting the Problems of the Case
The case under analysis discloses a story about the murder of Frank Mafia whose alleged killer is Mile Mobster. However, the evidence that indicates his guilt is not sufficient and is merely based on the media interviews and witnesses ’ pure conjectures, which creates several legal and ethical problems. Most of the details presented in the case touch upon such issues as defamation, free of speech aspects, interferences with witnesses, and wrong and prejudiced usage of existing facts being under the influence of media.
Public Interest, Contempt of the Court, and Interference with Witnesses
While reviewing the first paragraph, certain legal and regulatory issues have been revealed. In particular, the main question is whether a young reporter has the right to inform live about the accident via Skype to the station’s news bulletin. Second, there is an uncertainty concerning her right to interview “a very depressed woman”, a girlfriend of the killed. Moreover, the reporter also interviewed Mike Mobster that was allegedly suspected of the murder before the investigation started. Referring to the legal issues, the report interferes with witnesses and the legal process is a criminal matter (Pearson, 2011, p. 89).
Her actual purpose of reporting about the crime is purely commercial and is under the influence of public interest, which poses a serious risk of prejudice and proliferation of false and inaccurate information.
Judging from the analysis of legal and ethical issues, several legal and ethical violations can be revealed. Particular attention is paid to the contempt of the court when it is associated with media that “refers to report which could have a prejudicial effect on proceedings” (A Basic Guide for Journalists, n. d., p. 5). About this, these proceedings have serious criminal implications because illegal and concealed reporting about the major details of the crime can prevent a fair trial. Another form of criminal contempt is sub judice contempt that refers to “publishing material that has a real tendency to interfere with pending proceedings”, which is also called contempt by publication (Butler and Rodrick, 2007, p. 228).
It is also important to mention that “any person who can be said to bear a real responsibility for the publication to contemptuous material is liaheldto be help responsible for the publication and punished accordingly” (Butler and Rodrick, 2007, p. 230). About the case, the online publication of the murder as presented in the case can be followed by the complication in the process of trial imposing much prejudice on it. Though persons disseminating the contemptuous material greatly amplify the possibility of harm toward the court decision and toward the prosecuted person, they factually do not bear any responsibilities for this act and, therefore, they are not prosecuted.
However, they can still be liable for the contempt based on the published material in the print media as it has been carried out by the Daily Trumpet report that does not only reject apologies for false photos posted in the newspaper but also reports on Twitter about the major procedures help on trial (Walker, 2000, p. 588).
Taking photographs of the accused people into the deepest consideration, it is necessary to mention the case called Attorney-General (New South Wales) v. Time Inc. Magazine Company Pty Ltd (Walker, 2000, p. 589). The case reveals information about the publication of an article that included a photo of a person who was facing murder charges at the time of this publication. In response to the publication, the Court of Appeal imposed an interlocutory injunction on the publisher to prevent any further publishing of the photograph. Later on, the photograph gave rise to the contempt charges (Walker, 2000, p. 594). In this respect, the photograph published by the Daily Trumpet should have also been granted with restraining because it caused several inconsistencies and prejudiced attitudes to the accused person.
Interview with witnesses also entails a number of complications of the legitimate procedure because “it deals with matters in respect of which he or she may give evidence at a trial may be found to constitute contempt on the ground that it has a tendency to affect the witness’s evidence” (Walker, 2000, p. 593). In other words, the individual interviewed may be under the pressure to present inaccurate information to the media channels as he/she feels forced to provide a newsworthy version of facts. Irrelevant public pressure on the legal procedures and litigants is also presented in Harkinakis v. Skalkos (1997). The case reveals an actual tendency of deterring and affecting the litigation in terms of proceedings, which also reaches the law of contempt (Butler and Rodrick, 2007, p. 231).
Considering ethical implications, a question arises in terms of the necessity to introduce greater accountabilities and legal responsibility for the media reporter that provides inaccurate and prejudiced information and reveals it to the public. Hence, “while everyone has a fundamental right to speak freely, media owners using their property have obligation to society to use it justly with regard to other individuals” (Copyright regulations, 1969a, p. 50).
Regarding the case concerned, it should be stressed that the reporter abused her duties and interviewed an individual who was in a state of great psychological pressure and that can contribute to the presentation of inaccurate or even false information. What is more, the testimony the witness provided was not evidence-based but premised on the witness’s assumptions.
Another ethical concern is the case with posting a picture of Mike Munster, a minister in the state government, rather than that of Mike Mobster. The minister’s complaint was rigidly ignored as the newspaper rejected to publish an apology, which was a real ethical dilemma because the photo could distort the public perception of the true facts. While analyzing this action, it can be stated that the publishers have chosen a cynical approach to consider ethical and moral issues (Copyright Regulations, 1969a, p. 49). Their attitude to values and culture is premised on the principle of delivering information that people want to hear and what they deserve to hear. There is also an assumption that journalists are more inclined to ignore the universally accepted system of ethical codes and behavioral patterns.
Establishing the so-called personal codes of ethics, journalists, as well as media representatives, skip the existing codes, which significantly aggravation the legitimate process and prevent the court from introducing objective and just decisions (Copyright Regulations, 1969a, p. 51).
In addition, the adherence to maverick wings in making decisions and gaining information, each journalist to delineate him/herself from the established responsibilities and liabilities. What is more problematic is that this right of being a free individual has been ratified by the European Convention on Human Rights. According to this convention, “journalists …are able to pursue the highest professional standards…alerting their audience to the significance of an issue, and encouraging them to place it on their personal agendas of personal issues” (Copyright Regulations, 1969, p. 52)
Discussing Sub Judice Contempt As Presented in the Case: Defamation, Order Suppression, and Open Justice
With regard to such legal and regulatory issues as defamation, order suppression, and open justice that are applied to contempt, the case under analysis presents a number of serious violations on the part of reporters and media representatives. In particular, the fact that the Daily Trumpet reporter uses his mobile phone to report about the court procedures that have not provided the final verdict is a significant violation and a serious act of defamation entailing prejudiced decisions on the part of jurors that “Googled” information about Mike Mobster. Therefore, the magistrate’s decision to suppress the order is justified because it is aimed at preserving the objectivity and truthfulness of information and evidence.
Much concern is closely associated with the problems of competing for the right of media and the public, specifically when it comes to freedom of speech and information. On the one hand, free speech is closely associated with democracy and the civil right of citizens to protect their liberties. On the other hand, free speech and freedom right often prevent the Court from objective trials and decision-making. In particular, the case Lange v. Australian Broadcasting Corporation where “the court indicate that a media outlet would face fairly onerous requirements to establish that it had acted reasonably in publishing information that later turned out to be wrong” (Butler and Rodrick, 2007, p. 15).
While discussing the case with the false posting of a photograph in the Daily Trumpet, one should debate on such legal aspects as defamation. In particular, there are specifically competing right of free speech as well as the right of an individual to be compensated for ungrounded damage of his/her reputation (Breit, 2007, p. 189). Because Australian laws do not have guarantees of the freedom of speech comparing the laws established in the United States.
In this respect, journalists should be careful while delivering false information or posting improper images that could damage a good person, particularly the one related to policies, as is presented in the case (Butler and Rodrick, 2007, p. 29).
To prove that the actions carried out by the Daily Trumpet editors are defamatory, it is necessary to check whether a person being subject to defamation is hatred, ridicule, or contempt; whether the issued material tends to lower the individual estimation of right-thinking members of society; and, finally, whether the material causes the individual to be ignored. Judging from the case, all these aspects prove that Mike Munster has been ignored, ridiculed, and humiliated. Moreover, the publication of an official apology should have been the least concern of the newspaper’s editors because the material was defamatory. In addition, it is worth saying that even if the newspaper had placed Mobster’s photo, the material would have still been defamatory because it had been posted before the charges were imposed on the person.
A journalist should realize what kind of material can be defamatory as well as what requirements it should meet in terms of defamation defenses. The problem is that inaccurate information is frequently published and causes several legal complications, particularly when it comes to criminal cases (Pearson, 2011, p. 208). What is more critical is that “unlike in criminal trial where an accused is innocent until proven guilty, the burden in a defamation action to establish a defense falls on the publisher” in case the material was published before the criminal trial (Pearson, 2011, p. 207). In other words, the defense should not be burdened or somehow influenced by the journalist’s mind.
Though the case with wrong photo posting is regarded as indefensible, the publisher should have still made “an offer of amends to an aggrieved person without prejudice to any future case if that offer is then rejected” (Pearson, 2011, p. 209). What is more important is that the offer should conform to the establishing standards of timing, formats, particulars, and potential withdrawal.
Suppression Order and Wrongly Identified Participants Involved in the Case
According to Walker (2000), “if a suppression order is made pursuant to stator power … the legislation may set out the penalty for breaching the order” (p. 641). In this respect, the publication of the court material or reporting on the legal procedures can be assessed as contempt that is premised on the fact that this action is considered as interference with the justice administration of a process. Consequently, the suppression order issued by the court to the journalist reporting is absolutely justified.
In order to better understand the legal liabilities that can be held by the reporters and by the court, it is necessary to consider the case Attorney-General (New South Wales) v. Mayas Pty Ltd (1988) where the publication of the name of the accused was considered as contempt of the court. However, the reporters were not aware that the court has posed a ban on publishing any information and, therefore, there are not no grounds for complaint.
About the proceeding of the case and with the case at issue in mind, it can be stated that the reporters were not liable for the publication of the news because the suppression was carried out by inferior court, not by higher juridical organs. On the other hand, the published report has negatively contributed to the decision making in the court, specifically when it comes to the jurors whose decision was largely dependent on online publications on the Mobster’s criminal past, but not on objective judgment and present evidence of the case.
Truth and Objectivity
It should be admitted that reporting on the legal procedures has always been a challenging task because the reporter should be as objective as possible, which sometimes contradicts the essence of journalism. Aside from ethical considerations, there are certain legal procedures that should be strictly followed by the reporters during the trial.
While writing the story related to court trial, the reporter should make an effort to arrange all details in a right and proper order. Working in the sphere the journalists are highly valued for their ability to present trustworthy and valid fact that would not affect the overall perception of the case. Otherwise, they may be subject to defamation and contempt (Gregory, 2005, p. 71). The significance of presenting all details really matters for a reporter to avoid misconception and preserve his/her reputation.
While considering the case under analysis, one should debate on the reports presented by The Daily Trumpet. The reporter failed not only to present the valid information, but her also ignited the public interest and prejudiced attitude toward the accused. There is also a certain probability that the verdict was also influenced by online publications because much was relied on the jurors’ objective decisions.
Public and Private
The case discloses the issues of privacy and publicity and, therefore, it is imperative to define these notions to understand where the accused people have the right to privacy. Looking at the case, the analysis reveals that, on the other hand, granting the accused with absolute privacy is impossible because it does not guarantee absolute security to people living near the individual that was accused of a crime in the past. But, on the other hand, exaggerate clarity and publicity can distort the actual information and evidence that can lead to unjust conviction. In addition, there are certain ethical issues that should be taken into considering. In the end of the case, the verdict is made subjectively because on of the jurors was a college of the Mafia’s girlfriend.
After a through analysis and discussion of the case, certain legal and ethical issues have been disclosed as well as serious violation of the legitimate process followed by unjust and prejudice verdict. The case also unveils the flaws of the reporters’ work because they failed to present accurate information on the case. In whole, the story presents certain legal problems that caused by defamation, suppression order, prejudiced judgment, and improper interference with the legal procedures and witness’s interviewing.
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