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Journalism and Contempt

Journalism and Contempt


What is contempt and should journalists be charged with contempt against the court for refusing to

reveal sources?

Use CONTEMPORARY examples of this issue such as cases, articles and links to youtube videos to

furthermore bring light to the issue.

Discuss the use of shield laws in Australia and its


Discuss how modern technology and social media may cause further contempt issues for journalists.

Read the added file for more information.


Journalism and Contempt
We normally do not understand what contempt really is. Contempt, in legal terms, is
the act of interfering with the advocated course of justice. In Australia, contempt is the
deliberate attack on the status and dignity of the court systems (Phillip, 2010). Journalists in
Australia are usually charged with contempt for the failure to reveal sources to their
information at the court of law (Media Law Resource Center, 2013). I stand firm to argue that
journalists should be charged in court with contempt. This is because it undermines the
authority of the courts by endeavoring to influence participants in the proceedings, which can
happen through publication or action such as physical threats to safety at extreme (Overbeck
& Belmas, 2011). Failure to provide the requested information by the court is total
disobedience. I would recommend that journalists should be charged with contempt if their
publications tend to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.
Several cases are evident showing certain journalists charged with contempt in
Australia. Two Melbourne journalists, Gerald McManus and Michael Harvey, is one group
charged with contempt in 2007 who apparently, had written an article for the Herald Sun
Newspaper (Pracene, 2005). Subsequently, criminal charges were brought against
Commonwealth Public Servant, who was alleged to be the source of information for the
story. Both Gerald and McManus refused to give information as requested by the court, and

were consequently fined $7000 each. Another case that confirms my stand on charging
journalists with contempt is that of three Fairfax journalists in Supreme Court of New Wales
(Riles, 2011). Justice Lucy McCallum ordered the journalist tool reveal identity of sources
used to publish the story about a publication on defamation regarding a Chinese property
developer, Helen Liu (Wijckmans, Tuytschaever & Vanderelst, 2006). The is a video in the
you tube that show the article ‘Backpacker serial killings’ was fined $100000 for using the
picture of Ivan Milat, who had been accused for slaying 7 hitchhikers as told by his brother
The next area I would like to discuss is use of Shield laws in Australia and its
effectiveness. Shield laws are used in shielding journalists from revealing very sensitive data
to the court that can lead to the prosecution of the source of the informant (Mandiberg, 2012).
Shield laws can be said to be geared to protect the freedoms of the source of first-hand
information. Shield laws, on the other hand, are used to relieve journalists from personal and
professional harms. It is reported that period 2001-2002, two journalists in Australia
committed suicide due to unknown reasons (Karmen, 2013). Experts in journalism argue that
the cause of their death may be as a result of fear of prosecution as the article they had
written was sensitive. The effectiveness of the Shield laws is to electrify the freedom of
journalist to protect them from being blurred enjoying some services such as visa as it was
done to McManus. This enables journalists protect and retain their reputations (Jones, 2010).
The Journalists Privilege under the Shield laws provides that a judge will request information
about the source of data after evaluating the likely damage to the informant and the ability of
the news media to access sources of facts (Willingham, 2013). Another profound
effectiveness of Shield laws is that it has enabled governments to be accountable. This is by
protecting the journalist from corruption-full dockets of the government that reprimand the
freedoms of these journalists (In Meyers, 2010). Accountability can also be felt by the ability

of a country able to come down to the common problem and address it from the roots as
portrayed by journalists (Zelezny, 2011). At most, transparency and democracy is reinstated
to the overall system of justice because freedoms and rights are equivalently controlled and
The third and final issue I would like to address is how modern technology and social
media may cause further contempt issues for journalists. With the emergence of new
technology, we experience varied social media platforms where people of varied cultural
settings expresses their views freely and confidently (Hunsicker, 2011). However, such
information may trigger confusion and conflicts. Journalists have adopted a mechanism of
getting information from these social media sites to write articles and publications. This is
likely to cause more prosecution of journalists with contempt at courts (Elias, 2012). Most of
social medial related information is usually fabricated, and if taken seriously, will lead to the
prosecution of the journalist because it is very difficult to get the informant. This is provided
by Shield law that argues that journalist must produce the source of the information if the
court comes to the conclusion that it is necessary to have the source of data to make a sound
judgment about the accused (Chadwick, 2013). Development of technology and social media
will also see many journalists going to prison because of unintentional and intentional leak of
vital information to wrong persons such as terrorist groups.
I would conclude by saying that journalists with contempt should be charge with if
they refuse to provide information for proper operations of stated laws. Shield laws are there
to protect both the journalist and the informants. In my views, improvement of technology
and social media will increasingly place a heavy responsibility on professional journalists to
maintain high standards of fact-checking, honesty and objectivity if considerations such as
control are exhibited.


Australia’s Right to Know, Submission to the Inquiry into the Evidence Amendment
(Journalist’s Privilege) Bill (2009).

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