Journalism, Law and Power Court Reportage Reflection

My court reports were to be published in the ‘Victoria News’ section of The Age, as this is the section where court reports are published. They are to be published the day after the proceedings are concluded, to allow the story to be as accurate and fair as possible.

It was important that my stories upheld traditional news values to create intrigue with integrity. My magistrates court story stood out to me as having diverse range news values, most noticeable was prominence. The defence council to offer his drug rehabilitation knowledge and services to convince the court to release the defendant on bail into his custody called a prominent Melbourne drug councillor. The councillor is controversial in drug rehabilitation circles due to his connections to underworld figures and convicted former drug traffickers. Recently he appeared on ABC’s four corners programs investigation of the unregulated nature of rehabilitation clinics.

My second story was at the county court where I decided to once again look at news values to assist my deciding my stores angle. My main legal implication in my county court story was contempt of court. As this was the first court case I had observed I made sure to adhere to proper journalistic conduct in court. Contempt is defined as ‘words or actions which interfere with the proper administration of justice or constitute a regard for the authority of the court. Contempt is a serious prospect anytime a journalist in enters a court or writes on the proceedings of court while a case is ‘subjudice’. While in the county court building I made to sure to keep my discussions of pending case discreet and respectful as members of the jury in my case were released for breaks at certain points in the day.

Court reporting requires a great deal of patience, I observed my case over a three-day period, which required me to wait until the end of the proceedings and await the result. Publishing the story while the case is pending is the gravest act of contempt in the eyes of the court. Journalists in some cases can serve jail time for publishing details of pending cases. My main legal consideration at the county court was accuracy and fairness. Accuracy and fairness are vital to professional court reporting. The consequences of not reporting fairly and accurately are enhanced when the legal system is involved. When I visiting the magistrates court the first thing noticed was the speed at which cases are conducted in comparison to the county court. I had to prioritise recording the correct details such as names, addresses, times and dates.

The main ethical consideration I had for both stories came back to the MEAA Journalists Code Of Ethics Respect for the right of others. Journalists must respect the rights of the accused to a presumption of innocence and fair trial. My case at the magistrate is still awaiting judgement, as such the story I have written is reflective of the right of the accused to have fair trial and not denigrate the name of the accused until the court’s final decision.

To take both stories further I would have firstly contacted the courts Public Information Officer and Bench Clerk to gain a through record of the details of the court. At the completion of the case I would have sought out statements/comment on the outcome of the case from the defence consul, prosecution and the accused  who charges where dismissed in the my county court case. I would have in also spoken to the defence witness in my case the councillor  due to his prominence in the drug rehabilitation community

I didn’t encounter any impediments in choosing my case, when writing the case I realised I was missing small details, which made it harder to write and give accurate depiction of the cases.


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