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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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  • by Dr Caleb (121505) <thedarkknight AT hushmail DOT com> on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:28PM (#5121660) Homepage Journal
    Free speech does not enter in to it.

    This man has a right to a fair trial. "Innocent until proven guilty" is still a way of life here in Canada, unlike in the US media where it's "He's a murderer, string him up". For examples, see Gary Condid.

    This is the pre-trial phase, and in order to ensure there is a fair and unbiased populace from which to draw jurors, there is a ban on publication of evidence until trial time. This is quite normal here.

    Canada has it's own laws, our Judges don't cave in to American Media. The US media has a choice - don't publish details, or be barred from the court room.

  • by Target Drone (546651) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:34PM (#5121705)
    CBC has a good article that explains how publication bans [www.cbc.ca] work in Canada.
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:35PM (#5121725) Journal
    For another example, look at OJ's absolute joke of a trial. This was the opposite effect. It became the "OJ" show, and everyone - jurors included - couldn't wait for the 'happy ending'.

    Does "freedom of the press" trump the "right to a fair and expedient trial"?

    That isnt even the issue. The details of the trial are made public, just not while the trial is in session.
  • by frovingslosh (582462) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:42PM (#5121780)
    Read the story

    Judge David Stone's stern warning to three foreign reporters: Honor the publication ban or risk being barred from the courtroom. So all that is being said is that, if these reporters publish, they can be barred, in Canada, from a Canada courtroom. He's hardly trying to overreach his authority.

  • by Jboy_24 (88864) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:44PM (#5121801) Homepage
    then the public's right to know immediatly.

    I am a ex-pat Canadian living in the SF Bay area. One thing that often has irked me is the release of 'facts' in regard to a criminal investigation/case before the accused is put to trial or even arrested. It is often assumed that the public's right to know and the ability of a free press to report is based on the giving the public the 'information' the fastest. Somehow, the press's rush to publicize anything that is found in a criminal trial is deemed more important then the accused right to a fair trial and the freedom from vigililantism that can come from the premature release of 'facts'. Actually given the use of the press by police agencies in the US to 'leak' information regarding an investigation that soils the reputation of the innocent (Richard Jewell), this speed of information disemination actually harms the operation of a free society.

    In Canada, it is reasonably assured that the police won't release ANY information regarding an on-going investigation before that information can be presented at trial. So it should be. In Canada, the judiciary often limits what the press can write about only during a limited finite period. Again, so it should be, as long as someone's life is at stake in a proceding, we as a public, can wait for the gossip.

    As well, since this example from Canada is in the pre-trial phase a simple US approximization is the Grand Jury, who's proceding ares are often secret forever.

    I say to the court, throw out the foriegn correspondants, let the public wait to hear the juicy gossip from the court room! To the people who deam this a infrigment on their rights, wait until you are accused and tried in the press! Ask then where your rights of 'innocent until proven guilty' are and see how much work it is for you to prove your innocence for the rest of your life!

    Why oh why do we need to know NOW? Let the officers tell us in their own words what happened when they can be cross examined by the accused!

    As the US enforces the 'Patriot Act' and its ilk we will see how prominatly the false accusations will be printed and how hidden the retractments.
  • by slantyyz (196624) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:45PM (#5121813)
    Moore's known for the staginess of his work. While clever, funny and immensely thought provoking, his film stretches the truth.

    I live in Toronto, Canada, and if it bleeds, it leads in the local news. Maybe not to the schlocky degree in the US, but murders generally headline the local TV news here.

    And that stuff in the movie about the doors not being locked in Toronto neighborhoods? That's bunk. I don't know many people who leave their doors unlocked in the city.

    Something else that doesn't appear is the gun crime problem in Toronto. Just like Moore's Columbine movie, a 7 year old girl recently shot her brother with the illegal gun of her older brother.

    I love Michael Moore's work, but it's also propaganda with an agenda. Don't believe everything you see on TV and the movies.
  • by SoVi3t (633947) on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:52PM (#5121861)
    This case has already gotten a tremendous amount of publicity. For those who don't know, awhile back TONS of prostitutes went missing in that B.C. area, and after an investigation, the cops found alot of corpses in this pig farm. After the media circus kicked in, the judge put a ban on it, much like the Bernardo case. However, during the Bernardo case, alot of facts from the case still slipped out, and after the case was complete, everybody knew what happened anyways. On a side note, the Bernardo case is perhaps one of the most bungled cases, outside of the OJ Simpson case...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 20, 2003 @06:57PM (#5121889)
    This man has a right to a fair trial.

    Yes, and informing the public of what the government is doing does not get in the way of this at all.

    "Innocent until proven guilty" is still a way of life here in Canada, unlike in the US media where it's "He's a murderer, string him up". For examples, see Gary Condid.

    The fact that you cannot spell Condit's name is just the first fact you go wrong. While Condit did kill that girl, he did not go to court (so how is this relevant to the subject about court proceedings?)? He got away with it. Far from being strung up, he is living rich at taxpayer expense right now.

    It must be a problem with Canadian media, which is much more controlled and censored than in the U.S. Perhaps you believe that Condit was executed last year from a CBC report?

    in order to ensure there is a fair and unbiased populace from which to draw jurors, there is a ban on publication of evidence until trial time.

    So your populace becomes biased by learning about evidence? No trial is fair when the facts are hidden from those involved.
  • by dl248 (67452) on Monday January 20, 2003 @07:17PM (#5122032) Homepage
    Dude,

    As a Vancouverite following this case, these are the facts:

    According to the judge, the American media can full-well report everything, provided it is in their own country. US news feeds into BC/Canada are blacked-out, but if you pick up feeds from US satellite or over the airwaves, you too can watch the US media report on this trial.

    This is simply a means to a fair trial and an untainted jury, not directed at controlling the media, per-se.
  • by NewtonsLaw (409638) on Monday January 20, 2003 @07:29PM (#5122207)
    There's a very good article [nzherald.co.nz] in today's New Zealand Herald which provides a legal-professional's point of view.

    The writer is a (former?) judge and part-time lecturer in law and IT at the University of Auckland.
  • Re:bottom line (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 20, 2003 @08:05PM (#5122569)
    This is a preliminary hearing - there is no jury to sequester, even if that was a better system. (IMHO, it is not - it makes sitting on a jury a much greater hardship, which tends to produce bad juries.)

    The closest analogy in the US is the Grand Jury. The problem is solved by excluding the press completely - that is freer?
  • From the jury side (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 20, 2003 @09:36PM (#5123282)
    As a juror in one of the higher profile cases in Vancouver in the last year (R v. Shane Ertmoed) I think that I have a pretty good understanding of how the Canadian justice system works now.

    The publication ban is for the voir-dire and, if the case goes to trial, for the trial as well. As soon as the trial is over, everything that comes out in the voir-dire is fair game. In addition, it's supposed to speed things up in the trial as they don't have to go searching and asking all sorts of questions to get what they want, but can instead say "Do you see this transcript from the voir-dire? Did you say that? Is it true?" instead of having to go through the whole rigaromole again.

    The voir-dire is used to go over everything and determine if it is admissible. They will go over the statements, make sure that they are relevant, make sure that they were freely given and such. I suppose it also serves as a trial run so the judge and both sets of lawyers know what the evidence is and what information they expect to come out so they can be prepared.

    For instance, in the case I was involved with, the confession was edited to cut out the part where the accused admitted to the cops that he fantasized about young girls. By the time I got home after the verdict was given, that was on the CBC website. As for information that was new and not in the voir-dire, there was an awful lot of complaining by the prosecutors when the accused changed his story between the voir-dire and the actual trial. The judge didn't look too impressed by it either.

    Personally, I'd just try to learn as much about the proceedings now as I can so I could disqualify myself from jury duty. Do you really want to sit around for god knows how long and listen to whatever sordid details could possibly come up without being able to leave?

  • Re:bottom line (Score:3, Informative)

    by Zeinfeld (263942) on Monday January 20, 2003 @09:48PM (#5123361) Homepage
    The Canadian law is a perfectly reasonable one; this isn't another example of Chinese censorship

    The real issue is whether the constraints on free speech are for a reasonable purpose and for a limited time. Ensuring a fair trial is considered a reasonable purpose in pretty much the whole of the developed world with the exception of the US. The problem is that the press are pretty much in the pocket of the prosecutors, a court journalist knows that the DA is going to be there much longer than any individual defendant, so better make sure you keep in with your sources.

    It is pretty much proven beyond doubt that Ken Starr repeatedly made illegal leaks to the press during his time as 'independent' counsel. If a prosecutor can do that to the President with impunity they can do it to pretty much who they choose.

    A much more serious problem is when politicians use national laws to try to suppress stories that embarass them. This is currently the case with the German Chancellor who has obtained an injunction in the German courts to prevent the Mail on Sunday from publishing allegations of adultery with a television reporter. The mail does not have a web site The Guardian [guardian.co.uk] has a good piece on this case.

    The odd thing in the German case is that the Chancellor is attempting to use the German courts to impose an injunction on a UK newspaper. The reason that it is odd is that if you can't get an injunction under the notoriously plaintif biased British Libel laws then you can't have much of a case. Schroeder appears to be attempting to use the German privacy laws to suppress publication in the UK asserting that the EU is a single jurisdicition. Perhaps so, but in that case the German court would have to apply British law which does not recognise a privacy right.

    There are other cases of cross jurisdictional disputes. The UK has long been a favourite destination for libel plaintifs sicne although 'truth is an absolute defense' the rules of the game are rigged so even if you have proof the jury probably won't hear it.

    While the net allows people to route arround censorship they can only do so if they know they are getting a censored or filtered world view. People in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Israel know that their media is censored and they are pretty good at routing arround it if they are one of the minority who want to know what is really going on. If you buy the story promoted by the Murdoch press and the Republican echo chamber that the only fault of the US media is 'liberal bias' you probably won't go elsewhere to find out what is going on.

    That is one reason I like Google news so much, you can compare side by side the US reports of an event with the local reports. You won't find a report of the arms embargo that Britain has imposed against Israel in the US press, but you can find it in the UK and Israeli press. One might think that is kinda an interesting little piece of data.

  • The court order only extends to the internet in an incedental way. It actually comes from what's called personal jurisdiction. It really applies directly to people inside of his courtroom.

    The ban does not apply to all information about this case whatsoever.
    It only applies to information gleaned from inside of his courtroom. As such it really only applies to (would-be) reporters who step into his courtroom to listen to the hearing -- and then only until the trial is over, or the evidence comes out in full court.

    In other words, it's completely legal for me to tell you that Picton is accused of luring women (mostly prostitutes and/or drug users) to his pig farm where they were tortured, (probably) raped, killed and then stuffed through a meat grinder (or something similar), with their ground-up remains possibly being fed to his pigs before being spread around his farm.

    I can tell you that, even though I live in Vancouver, because the information I have was gleaned via non-court sources. The minute I step into the courtroom, however, anything that I learn in there is Not-For-Publication. The internet just happens to be one of the methods by which I'm not allowed to publish that information. This would include sending it to my news editor in The States who then puts it onto an Internet site. If I glean information from somebody inside the courtroom, I'm similarly bound to non-disclosure (or my source is, at least, bound to ensure that I don't then publish it).

    To give you an idea as to just how personal this 'personal jurisdiction' is: The judge specifically named some reporters in the room at the time who he considered to be problematic.
    ".... you have been warned"

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