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Censorship Your Rights Online

Publication Bans In A Borderless World 291

Posted by timothy
from the check-your-balances dept.
slantyyz writes "Wired has a story on a publication ban imposed by a Canadian court on the Canadian media in a well-publicized serial murder case. Now this ban doesn't apply to foreign media per se, but given the borderless nature of the Internet, it leads one to wonder about the efficacy of such a ban. Canadians clearly have access to the American media channels online. The last major publication ban occurred in the early nineties with another Canadian serial murder case involving Paul Bernardo. It was effective to the point that the Internet was still a young medium, but even then, there were a few newsgroups created that were dedicated to spreading rumours about the ongoing trial."
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Publication Bans In A Borderless World

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  • bottom line (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kwilliams (617679) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:15PM (#5121566)
    The bottom line is that the internet thrives on freedom and has come to a point where it's nearly impossible to restrict. That's a good thing, in my opinion.
  • In Israel (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MimsyBoro (613203) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:18PM (#5121588) Journal
    I live in Israel and we had a similiar case. About half a year ago there was a terrorist attack on a unit of soldiers and the heads of state (or some other decision maker) decdied that no one is allowed to know any details of the case so that the families of the dead wouldn't find out before the official notice was made. Although people tried to spread the news using the Internet (because the TV networks and radio channeled only kept repeating "At this stage we are not allowed to disclose any more information") but what happened is that the big news sites were contacted by the goverment and kept everything queit and concurrently the Israeil Inteligence Agencies "Quited Down" various small sites and public news site or forums that tried to publish details. Although never officialy admitted the Israeli Intelligence just DOSed a few servers to keep everything quite. So the question in how important is it that the information be kept secret
  • are there any studies that can claim to show that pre-trial publicity can actually bias a jury one way or another? Or is the belief that it (pre-trial publicity) may impinge on someone's "right to a fair trial" based solely on principle and reason rather than evidence? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
  • by ShieldWolf (20476) <jeffrankineNO@SPAMnetscape.net> on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:25PM (#5121631)
    Being a Canadian citizen I feel that we are within our rights to order a media ban on publication within this country. While it is obvious we can't enforce that ban on the Internet, we can easily ban foreign media from the courtroom if they flaunt our request to not print.

    Having said that, I think the media ban in and of itself is not feasable. It is designed to avoid polluting the jury pool (something that may have been done by post-arrest police leaks in the beltway sniper case), but an information vacuum is filled with rumour. I remember being in first year university where some of my floormates were from the St. Catherines area (southern Ontario), who knew someone, who knew someone who was a cop who viewed the Bernardo tapes. The crap that people heard through the 'broken telephone' was a lot worse than what turned out to be the case (although the reality was god-awful in its own right). The jury pool for Bernardo was destroyed anyway by everyone nattering about rumours, so you have to ask if it was worth it.

  • by core plexus (599119) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:31PM (#5121683) Homepage
    This site [xnewswire.com] had posted the original story [canada.com] back on 16 Jan. It's about a British Columbia pig farmer who murdered dozens, maybe more, women and fed them to his pigs. The pork producers are also trying to get the story quashed.
  • by Fjord (99230) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:33PM (#5121703) Homepage Journal
    I recall back during the 1997 Federal Elections, there was a small, but valid issue with blacking out election results because of the internet. Because of the timezones, the polls in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland were closed and estimated while the ones in British Columbia were still open. Without blacking these results out it can cause apathy among voters for the winning party and impetous for potential voters for the losing parties. This is enough to sway the vote to the minority party.

    During this election, many of my friends were in IRC channels full of hundreds of people (not enough to sway the vote federally, but it could have effected a riding) on either coast talking about the results. Now with Candians checking American or British papers, it's on a scale not known before.

    There are going to be more and more issues like this, but this is what happens when you empower the public in the way that the internet has. I for one will take the freedom the internet has given back to us and fight attempts at clamping down on it, even when i works against a case of individual right such as this, and voter's rights such as the election example given. We've been given somethng we've never had before and taken back a lot of freedom in the last few years. We can let it be pushed back like so many other freedoms we've lost.
  • by YouOverThere (50298) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:48PM (#5121825)
    Remember the publication ban is to prevent tainting a jury. So the accused can get A Fair Trial. I'm sure if you were accused awaiting trial, you would like the same treatment.

    It's is important to remember the judge who ruled, allowing media in to the court did so full well knowing about the internet and the publication violations that occured in the Paul Bernado case. The Media was allowed in anyway, he didn't have to let them in. It would be in the media's best interest to temper their desire to publish details until such time as the ban is lifted, if ever.

    I admit as a Canadian I violated the ban and read publications about Paul Bernado. I read the detailed court proceedings. I wish I never had. Steven King could never have dreamed up the horrors that those 2 girls lived and ultimatly died during. Bernado (and his wife) are truly scum of the earth. That publication ban was in place because the judge (rightly so) beleived the testomony and video footage should never be seen in public. The results would damage the victims familys further. Remebering they had to watch the video of their little girls dying...Something you have no need or right to know/see.

    Robert Picton is suspected of killing 55+ women (the count grows higher weekly it seems). 15 have evidence enough to prove to go to trial. The Police have been sifting through dirt looking for small bone fragments, so they can find more victims to charge him with. The victim's families would like to get answers to their loved ones disappearance. They want closure. This can be jeporidised by a tainted jury.

    The judge is not trying to be difficult, most people were surprised that the media was allowed at all. But if media breaks that ban, all media will be removed from the court. It is the judge's trial, and the media has no right to be in there. But Pickton does have the right to a fair trial. So the media should be on their best behaviour.

  • by NewtonsLaw (409638) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:51PM (#5121859)
    I covered this story yesterday (Sunday US-time) in my daily interent commentary and also highlighted the crazy situation taking place in Europe right now.

    It seems that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has succeeded in obtaining a injuction from a Hamburg court that forbids a UK newspaper from pubilshing details about an alleged extramarital affair.

    The UK newspaper have basically thumbed their nose at the order, as did another UK paper [thescotsman.co.uk] which went a step further and published not just in print but on the Web as well.

    My column on this matter can be found here [aardvark.co.nz] if anyone's interested. Check out today's edition as well: When Microsoft Owns Your ISP [aardvark.co.nz]
  • Canada (Score:2, Interesting)

    by n1ywb (555767) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:55PM (#5121878) Homepage Journal
    Many Canadien population centers (Toronto, Montreal) are well within range of USA radio and TV broadcasts. I live in Vermont and frequently enjoy the high-quality classic rock programming on CHOM FM and the hilarious BBC comedies on CBC.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 20, 2003 @07:10PM (#5121975)
    The case in question is the Pickton Murder trial.

    The purpose of the ban is to be able to get a jury selected for the trial that has not heard any of the evidence presented in the preliminary trial. At least that is the idea anyway, feasible or not.

    Now considering that the accused is up on 15+ murder charges ( and probably more to come) it would be common sense for the court system to try and eliminate the possibility for appealling a conviction on the grounds of a contaminated jury pool. As soon as the jury (and alternates ) are selected and setup for the trial, they will have no contact with the media. When that occurs the media will have no restrictions. The jury selection and pre-trial will only last about 2-3 months.

    Some free press advocates immediately look at this and shout but the people have a right to know!!! and I agree they do, but the accused also has a right to be judged by an unbiased jury. And on top of that, the tax payers of British Columbia have a right to try and prevent the trial decision from being thrown out, and having to go through the time and expense of doing the trial all over again. Since the trial is projected to last for some 30-36 months, the cost of the bloody thing is going to be enormous.

    Now, considering that the press will be in during the trial, and able to publish articles etal. about all the gory details about the trial.... I ask this:

    " Is it too much to ask of the media to refrain from publishing details until the jury is selected?"

    What has occured thus far with respect to the publication ban, really leaves one with a disgusted view of society. If the journalists showed some integrity they would see that it is in societies best interest to refrain from publishing details until the jury is selected. But that there in is the problem, unto itself. They would need to show integrity.

    This lack of integrity was shown right away when the ban was announced, Seatlle media outlets immediately stated that they would ignore the ban. Legally yes they could flat out ignore the ban, morally and ethically...they should have followed the spirit of the ban to the best of their ability... but alas that requires... Integrity... which seems to be in short supply especially in North American society.

    I would challenge those readers/comsumers of media stories etc... to support, standup, and cheer when you see a demonstration of Integrity from the media... for journalistic Integrity is a dying art... and needs all the help it can get...

    written by
    Joe Canadian
  • by Jim Efaw (3484) on Monday January 20, 2003 @07:17PM (#5122037) Homepage

    The legal and social implications are separate things here.

    1. The judge has no fantasies about his jurisdiction. He's doing what he can, which is to tell the journalists that, if they want courtroom access at all, the information had better not show up on their employers' websites. If some newspaper wants to compile their reports from second-hand rumors just so they can try to show up the court, they can. Then their reputations go down the tubes, and the judge can still ban the media from the courtroom, which is his perogative, instead of being nice like he is now.
    2. This kind of situation is exactly why foreigners have less freedom than citizens. A foreigner can come in, flout the local standards, then easily return to someplace where no relevant jurisdiction can get him. What do you think would happen to Canadian reporters if they pulled stunts like that with King County? Some pushy jerk would probably call INS and wait for the reporters to cross back into Washington state.
    3. Both Canada and the U.S. recognize the need for restrictions to minimize tainting of juries. "Standing up" for your particular interpretation of free press rights is more attractive when you think you won't have to work for it and you'll get an unfair advantage over your rivals too. From what I can see, the Seattle reporters are doing things they wouldn't even bother arguing for on their home turf-- they're doing something that's wrong by their own country's standards and using a minor loophole to one-up their competition for a few days, even though they (should) know that they've probably ruined it for everyone else from now on, including people who might have been able to use that advantage for something important later.
  • by AnimeFreak (223792) on Monday January 20, 2003 @07:18PM (#5122049) Homepage
    I live 10 KM south of the city where these 15 (so far, there are 54 missing) women were found and I am also 10 KM from the Canada/United States border. I pick up, on the air, KVOS, KIRO, KCPQ, KING, and KOMO, and they should abide by Canadian law and not broadcast any information. Luckly, they abide by the law in the television form, but they have gone to the point of putting it on their websites with a warning stating that this information not be read by those in British Columbia (they don't mention Canada even though the publication ban affects the country as a whole).

    If any of you out there think this is wrong, you guys are thick-headed. This publication ban is intended to protect what is left of the integrity of this trial. It is bad enough that the public is generally skewed towards the accused even though, through a slim-chance nonetheless, that he might be innocent.
    Lee Tien, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the right to a fair trial versus the journalists' right to gather and publish information has always been a sticky situation. Debate on the issue dates back before the Internet.
    The trial should always take precedence over the journalists as the journalists are much more powerful in skewing the public than the lawyers, etc. To say a journalist should have the right to put whatever he/she wants out is completely wrong.
  • Mark Twain sez: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bperkins (12056) on Monday January 20, 2003 @07:25PM (#5122141) Homepage Journal
    The jury system puts a ban upon intelligence and honesty, and a premium upon ignorance, stupidity and perjury. It is a shame that we must continue to use a worthless system because it was good a thousand years ago...I desire to tamper with the jury law. I wish to so alter it as to put a premium on intelligence and character, and close the jury box against idiots, blacklegs, and people who do not read newspapers. But no doubt I shall be defeated--every effort I make to save the country "misses fire."
    - Mark Twain Roughing It
  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Monday January 20, 2003 @08:16PM (#5122676) Homepage
    This is a strawman argument. What I describe isn't a "further reduction of rights". What is currently occuring is a traditional compromise between the rights of the media to report the "news", and the rights of the defendant to a fair trial. Take your pick. But I, as a Canadian citizen, would prefer the courts choose the rights of the defendant over the rights of the media.
  • Re:bottom line (Score:2, Interesting)

    by God! Awful 2 (631283) on Monday January 20, 2003 @09:04PM (#5123041) Journal
    It may not be the popular opinion here, but the Internet is going to have to evolve to respect the laws of sovereign nations. The Canadian law is a perfectly reasonable one; this isn't another example of Chinese censorship

    -a
  • Re:In Israel (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 20, 2003 @09:16PM (#5123142)

    Funny you say that, since the word Palestine originates from the Hebrew word "invaders", and was given to the land of Israel by a Roman caesar in order to try and change the name of the land.

  • by Zork the Almighty (599344) on Monday January 20, 2003 @10:16PM (#5123561) Journal
    Publication bans are only effective against stupid people, and although it isn't quite PC to say so, these are exactly who is being targeted by the bans in the first place. It's Joe Moron that believes whatever the wing-nut in the newspaper prints. We need another reading of "War of the Worlds" to thin these people out again.
  • by lith2k (184946) on Tuesday January 21, 2003 @06:27AM (#5125605)
    The case is in the pre-trial phase, and this is where the prosecution presents all their evidence to the judge to determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial. this means only one side of the story is being told. Pickton doesn't get to defend himself at this point. If the media covered this, then the jury pool would be tainted because most people would take this as fact. Simple as that, and i think it's very good.

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