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Court officers fear inaccurate social media reporting and untrained ‘citizen journalists’

Court public information officers say their top professional concern is that inaccurate information from courtrooms is being posted online to social media sites, such as Twitter, potentially prejudicing major court cases.

The insight comes from a draft paper being put together by academics in the wake of the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration conference, which examined social media and the law, in Sydney last week.

Professor Patrick Keyzer, the lead author on the paper, told Encore the insight came about as the result of focus groups conducted with 20 information officers at the event.

“Public information officers play an important role in assisting the courts to publish information about their work. Like judges and the public generally, they are keen to ensure what emerges from court is accurate,” said Keyzer.

“They expressed legitimate concern that allowing people to use social media in the court without appropriate controls might result in inaccurate information about cases being spread with the possibility information could then go viral.”

Keyzer, who is also the director of the Centre for Law, Governance and Public Policy at Bond University, said other concerns raised in the discussions included the broader “inappropriate use of social media” from courts and risk this poses for the administration of justice. Keyzer also believes there is a the need for more education about social media among court officials as well as journalists and the public.

The paper notes the risk posed by “the use of social media by journalists from non-mainstream media who may lack credibility or the training and experience that are prerequisites to high quality legal journalism”.

“The rise of social media has seen the rise of the ‘citizen journalist’ and that’s a very worthwhile development however the traditional mainstream media are trained journalists who have undoubtedly received training relating to the laws of defamation and contempt,” said Keyzer. “They are equipped to appreciate the consequences of their reporting but it may be that some users of social media don’t have that training enlarging the risk that those users will publish information which is sub judice.”

The comments come a month after The Sydney Morning Herald’s investigative journalist Kate McClymont warned of the impact social media was having on court reporting.

Nic Christensen 


Encore issue 19This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.

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