Australia police chief suggests limiting media coverage in terror cases

[JURIST] Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty [official profile] Tuesday called for restrictions on media coverage of terrorism cases, saying that media disclosure should be delayed until judicial proceedings have been completed. In a speech [transcript] entitled "Terrorism: Policing's New Paradigm" delivered to the Sydney Institute [official website], Keelty said:

In the United Kingdom, to provide a contrast with Australia, contempt of court laws prevent journalists from reporting proceedings in open court. In fact, even reporting information that has previously been in the public domain might also not be exempt from contempt of court laws. Although in the UK there is debate around when exactly proceedings become active, it is understood to be at the time a person is arrested; a warrant is issued for the arrest of a person or a person is charged with a crime. This media blackout remains in place until after the case is disposed of, abandoned, discontinued or withdrawn.

I am not saying that correct processes and procedures should be cast aside, nor should public institutions be immune from public accountability in the discharge of their public service, but I am saying that a public discussion about them should be delayed, in deference to judicial process. Not subjugated, not quashed, not silenced; just delayed, until the full gamut of judicial process has been exhausted.

If charges are laid, the right of the alleged offender to the presumption of innocence should take precedence over the public interest in knowing how the investigation was conducted and a person’s right to freely discuss elements of the crime and its investigation. Information about the investigation and wider discussion about elements of the crime become available as part of the open court processes or after the legal process has been completely exhausted.
Critics have objected to Keelty's comments, saying that the length of some terrorism trials would mean that vital information could be kept out of public knowledge for years. Reuters has more.

 

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