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Trial by media

By John Hargreaves - 10 July 2017 7

Over the last few weeks the hysterical media has conducted a trial by media of a young man from ADFA accused of raping a fellow cadet. The lurid details of their encounter were splashed about the pages for weeks. He was named in the articles, and his picture splashed all over the place.

It now appears that according to a unanimous jury verdict, achieved in an hour no less, that he was not guilty of the charge.

The woman who brought the charge has been found to be telling less than the truth, whether this be by malice, forgetfulness, fancifulness, or whatever. Only her close colleagues know her identity, although in a close community like ADFA it would spread like wildfire.

The whole world knows the face, name and age of the accused. These stories have appeared of course in online versions of the newspapers, thus making his trial by media worldwide. But the name of the accuser has not been published. She has been found to have given false evidence. Is she being charged with perjury or making false reports to the police? Who would know? Is this justice?

This is an appalling miscarriage of justice. This young bloke has had his career all but ruined. An acquittal by the courts doesn’t mean that everyone will believe in his innocence. His service career, if not ended already will always be tainted by the accusation of rape.

In the same paper, there was a story about some guy from Sydney coming to Canberra via an online dating experience, meeting up with a young lady and allegedly raping her using sleeping tablets. Again, the lurid details are available for the voyeurs to slather over. Again, his name was splashed across the story. Where did the press get these details? The allegations that sleeping pills, condoms and Viagra were found in his hotel room, that he had a sexual dysfunction are too detailed for an X-rayed eyed member of the fourth estate to discern by looking into the tea leaves. This information is part of the prosecution’s case and should be for the ears of the jury not for the voyeurs out there who will find this guy guilty regardless. Now if he is found guilty, the court will deal with it and publication of his name is fine. But where is the justice before the court makes its decision?

Trial by media is an abhorrent one-way insidious misuse of the power of the press. It is made more insidious by the acquiescence of the courts in not suppressing the name of the defendant in these matters. The courts are supposed to be the protectors of our rights and in these instances, they let us all down.

And while I’m at it, who let the press know of the charge. It is all too common that the world is informed of a charge being laid before a defendant fronts a court, by which time, I guess, it is too late for a suppression order. Although, it would prevent the ongoing denial of the right to be judged guilty or not before publication of personal details.

The police give this information to the press as soon as a person is charged, and often (and I know this from personal experience) before the charge is actually laid. TV scenes of raids come about from police tip-offs. The guardians of our safety, privacy and liberty abuse this “Special Office of the Constable” and release details so that the public will be on their side in a challenge before the courts. Disgusting.

Now you will say that the public has the right to know about these insidious crimes and the lurid details (for the voyeurs among us). I agree about the generality of it but what about the preservation of a right to defend oneself before being found guilty in the court of public opinion.

How many of us have condemned Cardinal Pell to the fires of hell for child abuse crimes even though he hasn’t fronted a court yet? Now I’m no fan of Cardinal Pell. I don’t like his manner and I don’t like his power-hungry ambitions. But, in a world of constant stories of hideous child abuse by clergies of many persuasions, all that needs to happen for a person to be found guilty in the court of public opinion and thus have their lives wrecked is an accusation. How about we wait and see what the courts deliver?

If the media must publish the names of the accused, how about publishing the names of the accuser too? In the cases of an innocent person being charged the false accuser will be outed.

The downside of this is that where a person is guilty the accuser is outed and it exacerbates the pain of the accuser and could stop others from coming forward.

The solution is not to name anyone until the trial is over. Then the details can emerge, the wrongdoer outed and we can all get on with it with no damage to the innocent party.

If this had been the case, the young guy form ADFA would have been able to resume his career and his life free of the cloud of guilt by media.

The media has a lot to answer for.

What’s Your opinion?


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7 Responses to
Trial by media
bigred 12:59 pm 13 Jul 17

JC said :

bigred said :

But the issue with case John refers to is really the immaturity of the police and prosecutors. They failed to properly test the evidence and make the appropriate judgements about how the case would go when tested in a court. In my view, the system design is quite fine but the application failed.

Fine, if the majority community opinion is that there is a fundamental fault let us have a proper review. But please, do not substitute bad with worse on the reactions of a few.

How can naming someone who may be innocent can in any way improve the legal outcome. Or more to the point how can not naming them make the system worse?

As mentioned above in this day and age I reckon it is in the best interest of all including the community for names etx to be kept out of the media. Apart from the potential reputational risk for a wrongly accused which will be with them forever, electronic media means it would be much harder in trial by jury cases to find jurors who are totally impartial and have not been influenced by the media. All one needs to do is google an accused and voila not hard to find media reports which may well be less than factual.

My perusal of existing laws and procedures shows enough flexibility to suppress names when required. Is John suggesting the various responsible Ministers (I count three) are unable to direct the constabulary? If so, doesn’t that raise a different issue?

dungfungus 9:23 am 13 Jul 17

What happened at ADFA is what happens when young men and women under the same roof imbibe.

It is just too convenient and it is not the first time it has happened. The same thing is happening at other local tertiary institutions.

The administrators need to segregate the sexes on the campus or it will happen again and again.

JC 9:11 am 13 Jul 17

bigred said :

But the issue with case John refers to is really the immaturity of the police and prosecutors. They failed to properly test the evidence and make the appropriate judgements about how the case would go when tested in a court. In my view, the system design is quite fine but the application failed.

Fine, if the majority community opinion is that there is a fundamental fault let us have a proper review. But please, do not substitute bad with worse on the reactions of a few.

How can naming someone who may be innocent can in any way improve the legal outcome. Or more to the point how can not naming them make the system worse?

As mentioned above in this day and age I reckon it is in the best interest of all including the community for names etx to be kept out of the media. Apart from the potential reputational risk for a wrongly accused which will be with them forever, electronic media means it would be much harder in trial by jury cases to find jurors who are totally impartial and have not been influenced by the media. All one needs to do is google an accused and voila not hard to find media reports which may well be less than factual.

bigred 7:54 am 13 Jul 17

But the issue with case John refers to is really the immaturity of the police and prosecutors. They failed to properly test the evidence and make the appropriate judgements about how the case would go when tested in a court. In my view, the system design is quite fine but the application failed.

Fine, if the majority community opinion is that there is a fundamental fault let us have a proper review. But please, do not substitute bad with worse on the reactions of a few.

JC 10:24 pm 12 Jul 17

Must admit I have always thought it odd that an accused can be named and details and pics splashed over the news without having actually been found guilty. Once found guilty yeah name and shame but until such time names and pictures should not be in the public domain.

Easier said than done of course especially in this day and age of social media in particular. But access to media like that and indeed media such as this very board is what makes this kind of thing even more important.

CanberraStreets 4:23 pm 12 Jul 17

It is a difficult issue to resolve.

There is a longstanding principle that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done and I think most of us would agree that there is considerable power to that position. However, I think the OP is drawing a distinction between justice being seen to be done and seeing who justice is being done too. That is a much more ambiguous proposition.

Any member of the public may attend any court case, with a few special exceptions. Reporters are members of the public, and so are the readers or listeners they represent. Reporters therefore have the right to attend court cases, and a duty to be there whenever possible on behalf of their readers and listeners who cannot be there.

The decision as to when it is reasonable to name the perpetrator of a crime tends to be clear only in hindsight. For example, it is easy-ish to now question the naming of David Harold Eastman, given his conviction was quashed 19 years after his conviction and he still seems likely to face a retrial – a retrial for which it will be difficult to find a local jury who are unfamiliar with his name and reputation. Waiting for a trial to be over, may not adequately deal with the issues being raised.

There is trial by judicial process, trial by media and trial by social media. Courts do as they do. Of the remaining two, Journalists have, at least, a clear role and a professional code of conduct. Bloggers, “influencers”, opinion piece writers and their commentors, etc, do not have that degree of constraint placed on them.

I am not sure that any remedy suggested so far is not worse than the current arrangement.

Mysteryman 10:48 am 12 Jul 17

I have to agree with you, John. I read the article regarding the ADFA student’s acquittal and thought it was unbelievably unfair that his name and face have been plastered all over print and the web, but the woman who brought the false charge against him has her identity protected. Shameful.

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