Juror-naming journalist facing jail

It seems I am starting to get a bit obsessed with this Contempt of Court thing.

My last two blogs have involved contempt of court breaches in the reporting of John Terry trial and the Harry Redknapp trial. My specific point in those two cases was that newspapers were not giving enough thought as to which stories users can comment on online.

Now a Twitter user, and former colleague, has accused me of carrying out a contempt crusade and brought a new case to my attention. It involved an allegation that a Guardian reporter, Jamie Jackson had made two horrific breaches of the contempt of court act in the Harry Redknapp case.

1) He named a juror on Twitter

2) He tweeted details of a legal argument not put before the jury

The case has been referred to the Attorney General by the trial judge, Anthony Leonard QC who has also banned live-blogging and tweeting from court.

My only reaction, and it is currently one free from being contemptuous because Mr Jackson has not been arrested, is to ask: "How the hell can any journalist get something like this wrong?"

In this country the anonymity of the jury is sacrosanct. This is no technical breach, it is a law-smashing sledgehammer of a breach and the consequences could be wide-ranging in the extreme. Any journalist-in-training is told that contempt can carry a jail-term if serious enough and, as much as I wouldn't wish it on any journalist, this is the sort of breach the jail term may be reserved for.

As we all saw recently with The Guardian's live-blog of the new presenter of Countdown. That particular publication wants to get live coverage up on any and all given circumstances. But if you can't get the most basic law right then the chances of the judiciary continuing to give open access is limited to say the least.

We all make mistakes. As a deputy news editor I once let the name of a rape victim get past me on newsdesk - a mistake that still makes me shudder 11 years later - but in the live environs of Twitter with no sub to save you, then you have to step up and be absolutely sure of every word you produce.

The Daily Mail has reported on this fresh breach by The Guardian and you may remember that, much to the chagrin of The Daily Quail, the Daily Mail was on my Goodies list last week. It has adopted a particularly gleeful tone but hey - you give them the ammo and that is what they will do.

You may not agree with the Mail but technically they are often very good at what they do - hence my post last year querying several bad decisions they had made.

A worse contempt of court

Last week I blogged about contempt of court and how the principle of it was being ignored by the main daily newspapers in this country in terms of allowing comments on active cases.

A couple of people, including David Banks, the editor of McNae's Essential Law for Journalists, agreed that it was technically a breach of the Contempt of Court Act. However, they added that in practice no prosecution was likely from the Attorney General as the allegation against John Terry was a summary offence which would not be tried by jury.

I agree however, my main point remains that, at a time in which the press is under huge scrutiny, it is advisable to adhere to all laws and, perhaps more relevant here, the spirit of the law.

So here's the thing today.

Four of nine of the main English nationals are allowing comments containing references to Harry's Redknapp's appearance today at Southwark Crown Court in relation to charges of tax evasion.

I spotted it first on the Independent so thought I would check out all. My methodology was to check any stories on today's websites containing references to Redknapp's appearance in court. Some sites had specific stories, some mentioned it in reports of yesterday's match between Spurs and Man City, and some gave no mention at all.

In journalism we like to have goodies and baddies so let me break it down:


* Daily Mail - no comments allowed

* Daily Telegraph - no comments allowed

* The Sun - no story on the tax evasion (surely the fact that Harry's a Sun columnist can have nothing to do with this?)

* The Guardian - no comments allowed

* The Daily Star - no comments allowed


* Daily Mirror - comments allowed, no pre-moderation

* The Times (no link - paywall) - no comments on the main story about the court case but comments allowed on the Balotelli story, which contains a reference to today's court case. Some comments casting doubt on Redknapp's character, despite the fact they are, in theory, pre-moderated

* The Express - comments allowed, no pre-moderation

* The Independent - comments allowed, no pre-moderation and several clear breaches of the CCA.

Let's be clear that this is no summary offence. This is an indictable offence which will be heard before a jury a body of 12 good men (and women) the Attorney General is always keen to protect.

My point from last week doesn't just stand. It stands proud, gleaming smugly in the sunshine.

If newspapers cannot be trusted to get the basics right - how can editors argue long and hard against statutory regulation?

UPDATE: The Daily Mirror removed the comment facility by 11.45am on 23.01.12

UPDATE: The Independent removed all comments referring Redknapp's court appearance by 1.16pm on 23.01.12

Journalism, comments and contempt of court

So this is a time when journalism is under massive scrutiny.

The Leveson Inquiry is looking in-depth onto every nook and cranny of the industry and threatening to drag out all of the skeletons and then slap the handcuffs of draconian statutory regulation on us all because a minority of hacks erm, well, they hacked.

So why is it that the some titles cannot follow the basic principles of the law correctly?

Yesterday The Sun ran a story on the on-pitch battle between Anton Ferdinand and John Terry. You may recall that on February 1, Terry is due in court to face an allegation that he racially abused Ferdinand during a game between Chelsea and QPR last year.

The story is perfectly acceptable and written with the boundaries of the law as it stands. However, for 12 hours The Sun allowed people to comment on the story.

Some of those comments, as you might expect of modern day 'passionate' fans, were pretty fruity and several stepped so far over the line to be in clear breach of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

That Act is intended to allow suspects a fair trail and ensure that juries are not swayed in any way by anything said outside of the court room. All journalists know that to print anything which might suggest the guilt of the accused is a clear breach.

You will have to take my word for it that three comments breach that Act is a very blatant way. I have the screen grabs but do not intend to add to The Sun's indiscretion.

About 12 hours after the story was posted, and after at least 21 comments had been left, The Sun realised their mistake and took the story down.

But today, The Independent, has done the same.

Fortunately, at the time of writing this blog no prejudicial comments have been let but it is easy to do so. I signed in to Disqus with a Google account and left the comment to the left.

My comment is not prejudicial in the slighted, containing only words 'My real time comment'. It was left purely to satisfy myself that no pre-publication moderation of comments was happening at The Independent and sure enough my comment was published immediately.

I did a check round and here's what I found:

* The Times - comments allowed but they are pre-moderated (no link behind the Paywall) - my real time comment was published but I was unwilling to attempt to post a prejudicial comment so cannot guarantee a result either way.

* The Telegraph - comments allowed - my real time comment was published immediately

* The Mirror - comments allowed and I didn't need to do a test as the top comment was such a clear breach of the 1981 Act it clearly had not been moderated (screen grab taken)

* The Star - no comments allowed

* Daily Mail - comments allowed - but were going through pre-moderation

If four out of nine mainstream newspapers are unable even to adhere to a basic law governing journalism - what chance do we have of avoiding statutory regulation?

I know that one of the most exciting aspects of online journalism is the interaction with the readers but you cannot publish and be damned - there is no Reynolds Defence in Contempt.

UPDATE: Following queries from readers about whether the Contempt of Court Act 1981 applies in a magistrate's court and for a summary offence (ie that not before a jury), I sought a definitive answer from the Attorney General's office and was given the following reply:

"The Contempt of Court Act applies to any court and applies from arrest."

So that settles that. That's not to say that the Mirror will be prosecuted but it certainly confirms that it could be if someone were to formally report the breach.

Daily Mail and rape footage

I have a history with the Daily Mail.

For starters, I worked there in the 1990s despite being a left-leaning person keen on supporting human rights. Then last year I wrote a blog post about how poor the standards were becoming at the Mail.

The Daily Mail is a favourite of the Twitterati - its right-wing politics and tub-thumping, link-baiting journalism is guaranteed to get us liberal social media types uptight and sniping.

Even when they recently claimed personal and professional success in the conviction of two men for the murder of Stephen Lawrence they failed to win even a flicker of support from their traditional enemies.

To sum up it's a hate-hate relationship.

Today they have stooped so low that makes me feel physically sick to my stomach. And it's a strong stomach I might add.

Today they carried a report of an alleged rape on Big Brother in Brazil.

No problem there - of course they should report on that. After all, the programme is still huge news around the world and a crime has been alleged.

But the Daily Mail was not content in telling its readers about the allegation, it also deemed it necessary to show them what had taken place in a seven-minute video taken from YouTube.

No I won't link to it because in doing so I would republish this mindless, unethical, immoral 'journalism' and I have no intention of doing that.

No doubt the defence will be that the material is already out there on YouTube so why not? Well, the answer is simple: we are gatekeepers of information. We edit and employ logic and ethics to decisions about what and when to publish - that's why experienced people in our trade (or profession if you prefer but you'd be wrong) get more money and the top jobs if they want them.

Snuff movies have been available from dodgy market stalls for years, hard core porn has been available on the top shelves of newsagents or adult shops for decades yet no newspaper editor has felt the need to republish their content.

Just because we can, doesn't mean we should. And in this case that fact is so blindingly obvious to anyone with a brain I can't believe I am even having to write this.

Simply appalling.

UPDATE: The video had been removed from the story by the evening of January 17.

UPDATE: Angry Mob has also blogged to highlight the weirdly spinning moral compass of the Daily Mail

The terror of leaving the iPhone family

I was waking up early with palpitations, nibbling my fingernails and was distracted for a month.
The cause of my panic attacks? The contract was up on my iPhone 3Gs and I had a big decision to face. Scratch that – this was a MASSIVE decision.
I loved my iPhone. It did nearly everything I wanted it to: I checked football scores, kept up to date with current affairs via the BBC News app, social networking on Twitter and Facebook, listened to podcasts on my long drive to work.
It was more than a phone – it was a companion and a status symbol. While I held it aloft it screamed – ‘this man is up with the times’, ‘he is an in the know, media savvy dudester’.
But it was expensive. With Vodafone (the only network to get a connection in my small Oxfordshire village), I was paying £36 per month and yet, because the phone connection was so poor, I was using about 10 per cent of the available free calls and a miniscule number of the unlimited texts.
I wanted the iPhone 4s, but at £41 there was no way my Scottish blood would allow me to chuck more money into the Apple black hole.
So I became obsessive. Constantly asking friends, colleagues and students about their phones and surfing the web for advice.
My anxiety wasn't helped when a friend (a tech-savvy friend whose opinion I trust) stated that giving up his iPhone was the worst thing to happen in 2011 and said Android 'suck dogs' balls'
I am sure it was easier naming my three children than coming up with ideas for a new phone. I can only assume that the kind of separation anxiety I was facing is similar to that experience by married people about to leave their partners.
Sony Eriksson looks good. Or does it? Some have, according to Vodafone, just been recalled due to an error.
I hear good things about Blackberry but I can only get the Curve on my budget. That wouldn’t be so bad would it? But what about my massive thumbs (my brother used to tell me I was born without thumbs and they had to graft a dead man’s big toes on to my hands), would they be able to cope with the Blackberry QWERTY keyboard?
Samsung? A lot of people say a lot of nice things about them. But I feel uncomfortable with the level of copying that goes on between the Galaxy and the iPhone and I had a terrible experience with a Samsung Tocco four years ago. Yes it was a 5mp camera but there was a two second delay between pressing the shutter and the picture being taken. I have loads of photos of the back of my daughter’s head from a lovely holiday in Yorkshire.
I was advised to keep the 3Gs and reduce my contract but heck I wanted a new gadget to play with and I wanted to keep the iPhone to use as an iPod touch as well.
As the day approached I got more nervous. It is no exaggeration to confess that more than once I woke up in a panic at 4am thinking about my iPhone’s replacement.
In the end I got a HTC Desire S on £26 per month. I have had it three weeks now and feel comfortable to blog about it.
Best to list what I wanted to see how it compares.
1) A phone.
The HTC outstrips the iPhone massively. The reception on the iPhone was so weak that I couldn’t use it as a phone in my home village and to send a text message I had to type it, leave it on an upstairs window sill for a minute and then press send. The HTC gives me at least two bars wherever I am in my house.
iPhone 3Gs: 0, HTC Desire S: 1
2) A camera
The iPhone’s 3mp camera was great and shoved the idea that it was all about the mps straight back down other manufacturer’s throats. The HTC’s 5mp camera is it’s equal in terms of taking quality pics and has the added bonus of a flash so I can take pics at night now as well. A narrow victory for the Desire.
iPhone 3Gs:0, HTC Desire S: 2
3) Web surfing.
Similar, but undoubtedly slicker on the iPhone. The double tap to get columns to fill the screen works more accurately on the SGs and the HTC has an annoying habit of putting the text too close to the edge of the screen.
iPhone 3Gs:1, HTC Desire S: 2
4) Apps
Again the 3Gs takes this because the BBC News app – my most used – is far slicker. It fits the screen more quickly, responds more sensitively and is an all-round better user experience.
iPhone 3Gs:2, HTC Desire S: 2
5) Social networking
A tie. Neither is better or worse. Both do what I wanted them to do (along as I avoid the rubbish HTC Peep app for Twitter) so I can’t choose.
iPhone 3Gs:2.5, HTC Desire S: 2.5
6) Podcasts
Initially this was my biggest disappointment about the HTC. The iPod function of the iPhone was excellent at managing podcasts and there was no inbuilt function on the Desire to manage this. But for £4.95 I have bought the BeyondPod app and all of that functionality has been restored. I had to buy it as an extra but as I am saving £10 per month on the 3Gs, and £15 per month on the 4s, it doesn’t seem so bad. Another tie.
iPhone 3Gs:3, HTC Desire S: 3
So it’s a tie. There are other things to consider such as the fact I can now get a free Tetris app on the HTC (they were paid for only on the iPhone), it is cheaper to buy decent accessories such as case and scratchguards for an Android phone and the Notes app on the Android is rubbish by comparison.
I feel I have made out pretty well. I am better off, have an iPod touch at home with all my music on it and am no longer a slave to iTunes.
If the 4s was the same price? You know what? I would choose the HTC Desire because I can now use it as a phone and, after the two years of the iPhone in my house, the novelty value of that will take a while to wear off.
Since settling in to the HTC, I am now informed on a regular basis how many of my contacts are signed up to HTC Sense so perhaps I am preaching to the choir anyway?

The Times behind the Paywall

In the past I have been hovering between coolly-supportive and warmly non-committal when discussing the issue of Paywalls for online newsites.

It's a hugely emotive topic with a large proportion of the London-based media-scene being anti on the basis that content is free and that it is a sign of a burgeoning democracy of information.

The arguments for are, of course, that the media industry is suffering and suffering badly. Would Rupert Murdoch been quite so keen to close the NOTW if the profits had been at pre-Web 2.0 levels? The Guardian - the most fierce critic of paywalls - is in strife and the Guardian Media Group flogged off their regional arm to prop up the huge losses it was making?

I am currently doing a research project into reporting of the transfer window in football and one of the things I was most looking forward to was being 'forced' to subscribe to The Times online and see what all the fuss was about.

What a massive disappointment it has been. I have been looking at the site for almost a month now and I find it littered with poor practice in terms of layout, presentation and navigation.

I'll start with the homepage:

What an unappealing mass of text that is - no sentence breaks, no paragraph breaks just words chucked on a page. Then there's the primary navigation bar. I had to check with a colleague that my eyes weren't going - that it really was that fuzzy and out of focus (trust me, it's not my picture this time).

Then they opt for an extremely clunky hover menu.

I may not have the fastest broadband in the UK but that seems to slow the whole process down and, to my eyes at least, it is not an attractive thing designed to ease your way around their site.

And it does what bad hover menus do - when you drag the mouse from the primary to the top of the secondary (From Sport to Football in this case), you frequently get switched to the Money menu because your cursor is taken over that section of the navigation.

Next we'll go the football section.

More chunky text and this time words are cut off half-way through.

The appearance of that disembodied ",a...." looks incredibly amateur to my eyes.

Moving on through the page and the appearance is decent. The stories are well-ordered according the news-agenda of the day and there is a good amount of white space to make for a pleasant viewing experience.

But there are not many stories on the page and I think I want to find more. I want to read more about the Premier League and I spy that that the titles Premier League and More Premier League are links. But when I click then I am taken back to the top of the page as the link only goes to the main football page. Same with the Columnists link and now I am very disappointed because Matthew Syed is one of my favourite journos.

How about the Championship? My club Derby County are on the up so I'll read about what Clough jnr is up to.

Where, for the love of blood and stomach pills, is the Championship? In the Hover Menu? No. A separate section in the football page? No. A random link in a list? No.

I am sure it is there somewhere but by now I am off to somewhere else. Despite the fact I am paying for the Times, I do not use it for any kind of news information.

The proud claim of the Times was that it was bringing in a paywall to protect and maintain its quality. That has been a mega-fail.

I am disappointed because secretly I had hopes that the paywall would work. Journalism, and particularly investigative journalism (real investigative journalism not donning fancy dress and encouraging people to break the law), is an expensive business.

But you can't ask people to pay and then offer them a significantly reduced service.