COMM 2654: COURT REPORTING REFLECTION

These court reports are designed to be written for two different news outlets; the Brimbank Leader and the Myrtleford Times, respectively. The court cases were heard at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on September 22, and would be published the following day on September 23.

The first story’s angle is about newsworthiness and novelty, but is also related to timing. The defendant was arrested while naked just out of the shower, which makes for a very interesting read. Also, the defendant was arrested the night before which makes the case very timely.

The defendant deserves the right to a fair trial, which is why I have not identified him. It was not said in the court whether he was innocent or guilty, as the court ordered the two cases that were pending against him to be heard at the Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court. As the Flemington police dealt with the incident at his mother’s house, he was brought to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court to be held in custody. The judge ruled that it would be easier to have it dealt with at the one court.

As the defendant may not have been in the right frame of mind as he had not had his daily dose of methadone, it would be unfair to identify them. It is also important not to identify as to ‘do no harm’.  Someone who is not on their required medication is particularly vulnerable. As I have not identified the defendant and there is no information that tends to identify, reporting what was said in court is ethical. Also, I balanced the story with quotes from the Magistrate and the defendant himself.

To take this story further I would contact the police officers who were called to the scene at the partner’s house, where the partner refused for photos to be taken. I would also contact the ambulance attendants who tried to assist the accused but were declined. I would also contact the defendant’s mother to get her version of events the night her son came over. The defendant said that he went over to visit his sick father. As long as the father was well enough and I would not be exploiting the vulnerable, I would like to contact him.

For the second story, the main consideration in selecting the angle was the newsworthiness and unusualness. Magistrate Moloney, the magistrate sitting in court, was quite surprised at the “unusual” case where the defendant was being held in custody over infringement offences. This was suspected to be due to the defendant’s previous time in jail for a separate incident, which the Supreme Court ruled on. The public is used to hearing about regular and routine court proceedings. As a part of journalism’s role as the fourth estate it’s important to inform the public of what is going on in the courts, and also to criticise those in power. In this hard news story, readers of the Myrtleford Times would be informed about the case of a defendant being in custody when they normally wouldn’t be. This allows the public to form their own opinion of court practice at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.

It felt uncomfortable being in the court room taking notes as the defendant and their family sat in the courtroom. It’s part of a journalist’s practice to take notes and write up an article about a court case, but it did feel highly unethical to be doing so as the family was there. I have maintained all ethical and legal issues within my article which would protect the defendant and their family, but it was interesting to note my feelings as I was in the court.

On the day of the trial it was not said in court whether the defendant had pleaded guilty or innocent. I searched for the cases on the Magistrates’ Court database of daily listings, where it said there was either no plea taken or a completely blank space where a plea would have been taken. I have decided to keep the identity of the defendant anonymous as this uncertainty could possibly be defamatory if a plea of innocence was taken. Also, it is not fair or accurate to report a plea had been taken when there was no mention of it. This would go against journalism’s core ethical values. Also, as the defendant had prior convictions, keeping their identity anonymous allows me to report on them. The defendant was also advised to seek an appointment with a psychiatrist, so issues of mental health are also present in this case. Anonymity protects the defendant from a tainted reputation.

To take this story further I would contact Justice Stephen William Kaye of the Supreme Court to see what he would have to say about the defendant. I would also contact the County Court judges who the defendant emailed to see what their reactions were, and perhaps get into contact with the radio broadcaster who aired the defendant’s comments. To balance the story I would contact the defendant’s brother who agreed to give up his residence to pay for a breach of bail, and the mother and wife who agreed to help the defendant attend medical appointments.

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