I AM eagerly awaiting the Victorian Magistrates’ Court’s comprehensive strategy to hold back the tides and unscramble eggs, after today announcing a ban on journalists tweeting from court.
The court’s new Use of Electronic Devices Policy prohibits the use of “any electronic device where such use constitutes instantaneous publication (for example social media, such as Twitter or live blogging)”.
Offenders may be booted from court or have their phones confiscated (and hopefully tucked in the Magistrate’s top draw, like a school teacher might).
This is an astounding policy which seems impractical and unwarranted, and goes against what the rest of the world is doing.
Lets start with the hypothetical of a journalist sitting in a big case and wanting to ‘break’ some news (which isn’t really hypothetical at all, it happens every day).
Like Jurassic Park dinosaurs finding a way to breed, it’s safe to assume our resourceful journalist will find a way to break the story on social media.
After all, that’s part of their job.
It might be they compose a tweet while sitting in court and then step out the door to ‘publish’ it. Or message it to somebody else via an entirly different method. Or just ignore the ban entirely.
It’s already customary for radio journalists (and those writing for online) to run out of court and file as son as they have something to report. With social media increasingly becoming a central part of a journalist’s toolkit, Magistrates might now have a hoard of journalists heading for the door.
Surely this won’t help ease the digital ‘disruption’ the new guidelines seek to avoid.
Melbourne lawyer Kyle McDonald argues the ban is a “welcome development”:
It could be possible for one witness, or observer, to tweet messages to future witnesses about the proceedings, undermining an order-out for witnesses. Or a voir dire ruling on admissibility or privilege would be effectively undermined if the argument was published online. Similarly too, restrictions on identification of witnesses could compromised either deliberately or unwittingly by a courtroom tweeter.
But again, if a witness wanted to do any of these things they could do it via email, text message, a message board post or by simply walking out of the courtroom and unleashing a carrier pigeon.
Likewise, if a court reporter was foolish enough to defame somebody, publish contemptuous material or jeopardise a legal proceeding in some other means, they would probably do it the old fashioned way.
Tweeting is the medium, not the message.
‘Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done’, the cliche tells us.
This must include on social media.