Media reporting of criminal matters
Having your name or picture published in the media in relation to a crime alleged against you can have a domino effect on your life. Even if you are acquitted of the charges, your reputation may never mend.
Australia has a system of open justice. This means that in general, the media is able to report on court proceedings with only a few exceptions. The principle of open justice is based on the idea that there should be transparency within the justice system to enable accountability.
Generally, the court will not prevent your name from appearing in the media when you have been charged with a criminal offence.
However, in New South Wales, there are some prohibitions on reporting names in the media. These include matters where:
The person charged is a juvenile defendant under the age of 18 years;
The matter involves sexual assault victims and child witnesses whose names are prohibited from being published under section 578 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW); and
Children are involved in an application for an Apprehended Violence Order and the proceedings have not yet finalised.
The media cannot claim a person is guilty of a crime if the court proceedings have not yet been finalised and the person has not been found guilty. Reporters often use the words ‘allegedly’ or ‘reportedly’ to avoid this. Where the media does make such a claim, the publication or reporter may be liable for a defamation action. There are some defences against defamation including where the information is substantially true or represented as an honest opinion rather than fact.
A reporter or publisher may also be liable for ‘contempt of court’ when they are seen to be interfering with the course of justice. From the time a person is arrested and charged with an offence until the time that the proceedings are finalised, the media cannot publish or broadcast material that has a tendency to interfere with or prejudice a person’s right to a fair trial. These include details of your criminal record, matters that are discussed in the absence of the jury (where the matter is in trial before a jury) or other background information about you which may lead to a potential jury becoming prejudiced or influenced against you. Where the media is reporting on a jury trial, they can only report on things that are said and done in the court while the jury is present.
If your name or image is published while you have proceedings ongoing before the court and you believe that it should not have been, in the first instance, you should speak with your lawyer and obtain legal advice.