Blogs act beyond the law: Australian bush fire blogs could jeopardise case

Filed as News on February 17, 2009 2:18 am

While courts can slap gagging orders on established media to stop certain information being published, it’s very clear that they have little control over what members of the public post online on blogs and forums.

So it is with the case of Brendan Sokaluk, the man accused of deliberately starting one of the bush fires in Victoria, Australia.

The court may have stopped the newspapers from divulging Sokaluk’s photo and street address, some bloggers have been posting such information online.

Police deputy commissioner Kieran Walshe says that this action could jeopardise the case against the accused. Apparently “police are looking into what can be done about the blogging”, though I’d say “precious little”.

With a mass of bloggers comes a myriad of opinion over what is acceptable to publish and what should be left alone. It’s going to be an increasing problem for the judicial system. Just because it’s illegal or, at least, unethical to divulge case details online, it’s virtually impossible to stop it completely, particularly as it’s quite easy to post near-anonymously online.

(Via Australian IT)

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  1. By Duncan Riley posted on February 17, 2009 at 3:39 am
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    Andy
    couple of points
    1. The suppression order applied to Victoria alone. The photo in particular was freely available in the mainstream media both in Australia and overseas, just not from Victorian publications. This idea that blogs alone are somehow responsible for the distribution of the photo is bizarre at the very least. His photo even came up in search results in Google (let alone News and Image search).
    2. The story you quote came from an AAP wire article. A subsequent article quoting the hearing that lead to the police statement about blogs noted that the Barrister for the alleged arsonist had nominated concern with details being shared on Facebook and MySpace, but didn’t mention blogs. WTF isn’t the half of it then as to how the media and Victoria Police can’t tell the difference between a blog and a social networking site; I suspect in part that the story was driven by journalists who share a common hatred of blogging and new media.

    Sad day in Australia though that new media would be targeted in this way. Free speech is like a highly endangered animal that could cease to exist any day here.

    Reply

  2. By Owen posted on February 17, 2009 at 7:37 am
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    Duncan, you’re ignoring the basic issue. It may be inconvenient to bloggers, social networkers, and new and old media enthusiasts, but the principle of a fair trial is the cornerstone of any adequate system of justice.

    Reply

  3. By Laurel Papworth posted on February 17, 2009 at 8:31 pm
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    If everyone has access to the same information it’s a fair trial. The rule of law is above the individual but not the community. And the community know things quicker than the press do now. We changed the “no press 48 hours before the election” law, we’ll change this one. Eventually. Being allowed to name the person and their location, but not discuss that is just plain nutso.

    The thought that someone innocently tweeting “that’s the guy next door”! could end up in court, concerns me greatly. The call to lock down facebook and myspace and wikipedia when the big court cases are on, is just plain dumb. Filters R Us Australia.

    Reply

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