5. Journalism and Contempt of Court

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When reporting social media posts or personal information about an alleged or accused criminal it is important for journalists to keep the laws of contempt in mind.

In Canada, the laws of contempt have to balance the right to free expression with the right to a fair trial. Though there are no absolutes when it comes to reporting and contempt of court, the law comes down to one question: does what the news organization published have the power to prejudice a jury? [1]

It is wise for a journalist to seek legal advice before and during a trial to find out what they can publish, particularly because there could be a publication ban in place. [2] According to the Canadian Judicial Council’s report “The Canadian Justice System and the Media,” there are a some considerations that a news organization should make before reporting on criminal cases:

  • How soon the trial is;
  • If the information explicitly links someone to a crime;
  • If the article reports someone’s criminal record;
  • If the article reports a confession;
  • If information reported has not been heard by the jury;
  • If the news organization presents influential opinions;
  • Whether a published opinion can scandalize the courts. [3]

It is important for journalists to understand that it is not their job to convict someone in their reporting before they have been convicted by the courts. [4]

Watch: Iris Fischer warns journalists against convicting an accused person before they have been tried in a court of law.

[1] The Canadian Judicial Council, The Canadian Justice System and the Media, Ottawa: The Canadian Judicial Council, 2007. Accessed December 3, 2016, http://www.cjc-ccm.gc.ca/cmslib/general/news_pub_other_cjsm_en.pdf

[2] The Canadian Judicial Council, The Canadian Justice System and the Media, Ottawa: The Canadian Judicial Council, 2007. Accessed December 3, 2016, http://www.cjc-ccm.gc.ca/cmslib/general/news_pub_other_cjsm_en.pdf

[3] The Canadian Judicial Council, The Canadian Justice System and the Media, Ottawa: The Canadian Judicial Council, 2007. Accessed December 3, 2016. http://www.cjc-ccm.gc.ca/cmslib/general/news_pub_other_cjsm_en.pdf

[4] Iris Fischer interview by Avneet Dhillon, David Greenberg and Kayla Rosen, November 30, 2016.

Next: 6. Poisoning the Well

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0 thoughts on “5. Journalism and Contempt of Court

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