Attorney General blames blogosphere for frenzied media

16 March 2011 by

The Attorney General has warned publishers that the law may be changed to prevent them revealing the names of criminal suspects before they are charged. He also blamed the “massive” and “frenzied”coverage of pre-charge suspects in part on pressure on newspapers from the blogosphere.

Dominic Grieve told Joshua Rozenberg on yesterday’s Law in Action (listen here):

We seem to be living a world where because of competing interests on newspapers, perhaps in part because of the internet, because of the fact they are competing with the blogosphere where people are publishing a great deal of material, national newspapers are keen to give as much background detail to their readers as possible at early stages of criminal investigations. (09:25)

By way of background, the High Court recently found two newspapers guilty of contempt of court for the publishing of an online photograph of a criminal suspect holding a gun. It was the first such case of contempt relating to an online publication. Ominously for bloggers and tweeters, the court warned that “instant news requires instant and effective protection for the integrity of a criminal trial“.

Grieve reminded listeners that “the Contempt of Court Act… doesn’t prevent them from doing that” Rather, “it lays down some pretty clear parameters that what they are doing must not interfere with a fair trial and investigation process“. To that end, see my post (as well as the comments below) on how bloggers and tweeters can avoid finding themselves charged with contempt of court.

He does think there is some areas of serious concern, as “in some cases there is reason to think they have been acting in a way which could be quite dangerous.” And whilst there used to be “a degree of self-restraint” in national newspapers, this “seems to have almost entirely vanished.” Instead there is

frenzied interest and massive coverage… A week later you get the backlash usually from the broadsheet newspapers.

But what to do about it? Whilst the Attorney made clear that he won’t hesitate to prosecute cases if they are worth prosecuting, he also said that he had not yet decided whether to pass any new laws to enforce more responsible reporting. This would happen if  there were “too many instances of media frenzies“.

This strategy is clearly shared by the Ministry of Justice, with Ken Clarke using yesterday’s press conference on libel reform to give a similar warning. In short, behave better or we will force you to do so.

This is a sensible approach, given the implications for freedom of speech of any law involving media censorship. And as to the influence of bloggers and tweeters, whilst many will feel flattered that the Attorney General is paying attention, this is certainly a mixed blessing. Given his stated strategy (and in light of the gun picture case, willingness) to using existing law on contempt  to enforce responsible reporting rather than enacting a new one, this may mean that a particularly unlucky blogger or tweeter may find themselves being made an example of.

As to whether the blogosphere is to blame for newspaper frenzies, the blogosphere itself is as varied as the newspaper industry; probably more so. There are plenty of responsible legal bloggers who are aware of their duties under the contempt of court act. But there are some who are as guilty as newspapers (note the absence of the word “tabloid” – I am less convinced than the Attorney General that broadsheets sit on the sidelines) for stoking media frenzies.

But blaming the bloggers is unlikely to prove a useful defence in court. The journalistic code of conduct has not changed in principle since the rise of the internet, even if behaviour has, and whilst journalists may face more competition from the internet, they have also benefited from its rise and now attract far larger audiences. This may indeed generate more pressure, but as with most new media, standards of behaviour can easily be adapted for the new format.

It seems that the pressure of “online” is being used as an excuse. In any event, it is clear that bloggers and tweeters can no longer draw comfort from being out of the limelight. And with visibility comes responsibility.

Sign up to free human rights updates by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS

Read more:

Welcome to the UKHRB


This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.

Subscribe

Categories


Tags


Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board care homes Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus coronavirus act 2020 costs costs budgets Court of Protection covid crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary ouster clauses parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania round-up Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe

Disclaimer


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: