Friday 31 December 2010

Does contempt of court only apply to local press?

Northern Echo editor Peter Barron looks at national coverage of the Jo Yeates murder inquiry and the arrest of her landlord Chris Jefferies and asks on his blog today "Is contempt of court a thing of the past?"

Peter writes about discussions he has had with heads of the Crown Prosecution Service in the North-East over contempt of court.

"They have amounted to no more than gentle warnings about the dangers of going too far in reports which may be prejudicial to the chances of defendants getting a fair trial.

"In each case, I - and the paper's lawyers - have been confident that we have not breached the law. Nevertheless, we have been left with the feeling that we are being watched.

"In those discussions, I have made the wider point to the CPS chiefs that it is increasingly difficult to know where we stand when the nationals get away with publishing more or less what they want.

"The murder of Jo Yeates in Bristol is yet another example. Today's Daily Mirror carries a photograph of her arrested landlord Chris Jefferies with the headline 'JO SUSPECT IS PEEPING TOM'.

"Two ex-tenants are quoted as saying he used to peer intrusively into the flats he rented out. The clear impression left is that he's a pervert.

"Chris Jefferies might look a bit odd but so far he hasn't been found guilty of anything.

"So I pose the simple question: Is contempt of court a thing of the past - or is it only local editors who feel the heat?"

  • A post on Beehivecity warns that a "Twitter frenzy" over Jefferies' arrest could harm justice.
  • UPDATE: BBC News reports: "The attorney general is considering issuing a notice to remind the media that coverage of the arrest in the Jo Yeates murder inquiry must be fair. Attorney General Dominic Grieve said if necessary he would take action."

    In an interview for BBC Radio 4's World At One, Grieve said: "We are considering what I've seen in newspapers today, and we will try to take such action as is right to ensure that the course of justice is not in any way impeded.

    "Newspapers are under a legal obligation, indeed all media is under a legal obligation, in fact everybody who puts something on the internet is under a legal obligation, to observe the principles of the Contempt of Court Act," he said.

    "If they don't, they lay themselves open to proceedings for contempt."

Quotes of the Year: The Best of the Rest...

I am ending the year with the best quotes that don't fit a category.

Adopting the Piers Morgan approach:

Kelvin MacKenzie on publishing a picture of himslf and pop sensations Jedward in his Sun column: "I have decided, late in life, that I too wish to adopt the Piers approach."

Why you shouldn't read the Daily Mail:

Chris Mullin, retired Labour MP for Sunderland South, to Clive Anderson on BBC Radio 4's The Heckler programme: "I remember once I had a woman come in who was really on the edge of a breakdown. She was talking about civil war and chaos, immigrants coming up the lanes of Sunderland with knives between their teeth to murder her. She was really in a terrible state. I just said to her 'What paper do you read, love?' and, of course, it was the Daily Mail. I just said 'stop reading it and you'll find life gets better.' "

Public Relations:

David Hepworth in The Word magazine on showbiz PRs and their increasing demands: "PR control reduces mystique. It acts on charisma like bromide on erectile tissue and sets up stars for an inevitable fall."

The worst mistake newspapers ever made:

Marc Reeves at news:rewired:"To all of you who are saying 'Sorry I’m just a journalist, I don’t sell advertising or organise events,' I say 'tough' that’s just the way it will be from now on. We tried it the other way and it broke. That artificial divide we created when we put the noisy people in a room marked ‘advertising’ and the studious types in another labelled ‘editorial’ was the biggest mistake newspapers and other media ever made."

Getting loaded:

Outgoing Loaded editor Martin Daubney looks back in Press Gazette: “I set fire to writers, bailed them from Russian jails, shot them from cannons, threw them in ice pools, blew them up with napalm, made them wrestle grizzly bears and had them commit all manner of foul sex acts in the tireless pursuit of our readers’ entertainment."

Career opportunity or suicide?

Girish Gupta, who billed the Independent after doing two weeks' work experience:
"I'm sure I won't be having too many bylines in the Independent anytime soon but I hope that other editors can see that I'm doing what I believe to be right. Journalism is meant to be about outing what you think is wrong so hopefully I am doing that."

PM on the BBC:

David Cameron "teases" the BBC: "We’re all in it together, including, deliciously, the BBC, who in another negotiation agreed a licence fee freeze for six years. So what is good for the EU is good for the BBC”

For better and worse:

Stewart Kirkpatrick editor of Scotland's online newspaper, the Caledonian Mercury, at JEEcamp: "There's never been a better time to be a journalist. And there's never been a worse time to work as one."


Katie Price asked by the Guardian if she has read her own books: "What, my autobiographies? No, cos I know what's in them."

Don’t tell Mum I’m a journalist:

Rowan Pelling in the Daily Telegraph remembers an email from dandy Sebastian Horsley who died this year: "Don't tell my mother I work as a journalist. She thinks I am a prostitute."

(That's enough quotes - ed)

Happy New Year

Quotes of the Year:

Hacks on hacks;


Blogging and Bloggers;

Ethics and entrapment;


WikiLeaks and Julian Assange;

Paywalls, Rusbridger and Murdoch;

The General Election;

The Regional Press.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Nick Davies: 'I cut contact with Assange in August'

The Guardian's Nick Davies has written an article on The Huffington Post defending the paper's publication of the Swedish police file on sex allegations made against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

In the article Davies hits back at criticism from Bianca Jagger and reveals that he has cut all contact with Assange, who he persuaded to give WikiLeaks material to the Guardian.

Davies writes: "It is true that at the beginning of August, I cut off contact with him [Assange] in order to protest at several things he had done -- the first time I have cut off a source in 34 years as a reporter. This was nothing to do with the sex allegations in Sweden.

"His supporters tried to brief newspapers that it was an act of vengeance on my part to go out and find this police file. That fell at the first fence, because the file came to me: I never spent a single second looking for it.

"As an alternative decoy, Assange suggested in his interview with David Frost, that some malign force, possibly an intelligence agency, chose me as an outlet for the file, knowing that I could be relied on to write a negative story. That also falls at the first fence. The reality is that I didn't write the story which the Guardian published. The copy which I filed was completely re-written in the Guardian office, a commonplace event in a newsroom."

Davies also writes: "Assange's UK lawyer tried very hard to persuade us to suppress the file. He argued that since Assange had been a source for our stories, we should 'protect' him. I reckon that that is an invitation to journalistic corruption, to hide information in order to curry favor with a source. We were right to publish."

He adds: "Finally, I should mention what Jagger does not -- that I was the journalist who took it on himself back in June to track down Julian Assange and to persuade him not to post his latest collection of secrets on the WikiLeaks website but to hand them over to the Guardian and other news organizations. The publication of the Afghan and Iraqi war logs and then the diplomatic cables all flowed from that initiative. I did that because I think journalists should tell the truth about important things without being frightened, for example, by the government of the most powerful state on the planet."

Pic: Nick Davies (Jon Slattery)