Up in Canada, a trial is going on in British Columbia that involves a pig farmer named Robert William Pickton. He is currently suspected of killing almost fifty women, many of them prostitutes. Why is this important to blogging? It turns out that there is a publication ban on the trial. And while “official reporters” are easy to identify courtesy of their badges and credentials, non-professional reporters and bloggers are making their way to this very public trial, creating a quandry for the judge and judicial system in enforcing the publication ban.
The Ottawa Citizen reports that one website, Orato.com, has hired a number of said “non-official” reporters to create a number of reports right from the trial, with the hope that they might provide a kind of perspective that “real” reporters might not have. The vast majority of the victims were prostitutes, and many of these neo-reporters are, in fact, former sex-trade workers.
While blogging and other attempts at citizen journalism bring a fresh and, perhaps, intimate perspective on any particular bit of news, as the Pickton case shows, it creates serious issues around the possibility of a fair trial. As the Citizen reports:
VanKoll [an Orato reporter] has already come uncomfortably close to convicting Pickton in her writing, concluding her third dispatch with the implication that his attitude on a police video of his initial questioning leaves her too angry to continue. Who knows what else she might say? If she breaks the rules, Judge Williams can always kick her out of the courtroom, as he can any professional reporter. But what if one of the family members of one of Pickton’s alleged victims started ban-busting — on a website, or into a reporter’s microphone?
With the difficulties that the movie industry faces with less scrupulous individuals sneaking portable recording media into movie theatres, what hope does a small courtroom have in policing media bans in the YouTube age? Will judges who have an earnest desire for true “publication bans” require the entire gallery be cleared for the entire trial? It might be the only solution, as blogging, citizen journalism, and the constantly evolution of new media make secrecy a difficult proposition to enforce — even when its well intended.