Wednesday 12 August 2009

Baby P reporting restrictions in an online world

Steve Herrmann, editor of the BBC News website has posted on the Editors Blog about the lifting of the reporting restrictions in the Baby Peter Connelly case and what it means online.
He notes of the restrictions: "These were ordered because the defendants were the subject of another trial, for the rape of a two-year-old girl, which could have been compromised if the jury were prejudiced by information from the earlier case, and also because there were children who were still in the process of being placed with alternative carers.
"Now that Steven Barker has been found guilty and sentenced in the rape trial, and all the children are being cared for, the guilty trio's anonymity has ceased and we along with the rest of the media have been able to name them.
"This sounds deceptively simple, but when you look at what this means online it is more complicated. A news website like the BBC's will have a huge archive of stories, some of which may contain information which only later becomes the subject of legal restriction.
"On this occasion, there were indeed two stories in our own archive relating to the very early stages of the Baby Peter case which, if you searched for them, did give the names of the defendants. We did not republish or link to them from new stories, but on this occasion plenty of other people chose to do so.
"There were vigilante-style websites, blogs and individual e-mailers who were determined to make the names public and who were making a point of linking to our archived stories.
"We removed the stories from our archive even though in practice the details were easy to find, and the information had already been reproduced and cached elsewhere on the internet. Now that the restrictions have been lifted we've reinstated the stories in the archive. Not, incidentally, a very practical or easy way of doing things if we had to do it very often.
"But it has raised again a wider question as to how useful or effective such restrictions can be, given the ease with which the web allows information to be shared, stored and duplicated on other sites, blogs or in search engine caches."
One thing I'm not clear about is why did the BBC name Connelly and Barker on its website and on Newsnight just after 11pm on Monday? It had been reported that the court order was due to end at midnight. Was it because the first editions of the national newspapers had splashed on the story?

1 comment:

Paul Linford said...

why did the BBC name Connelly and Barker on its website and on Newsnight just after 11pm on Monday?

Presumably because by the time Haringey Council's lawyers had managed to issue an injunction and find a judge prepared to hear it at that time of night, it would have been too late anyway!