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Enforcing publication bans
November 21, 2002 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Enforcing silence: American media are unsurprisingly preparing to publish details of Vancouver's Pickton case despite a Canadian publication ban. Are media blackouts censorship, necessary for justice, or both? Or are they just doomed to fail when you can just, you know, do stuff like this?
posted by transient (22 comments total)

 
In Canada, a judge must impose a publication ban on the preliminary hearing if the defendant requests it. That ban, designed to ensure that potential jurors are not swayed by news of the case, is lifted when a verdict is delivered and journalists are free to publicize the evidence.

They are both censorship and (potentially) necessary. They key is that the evidence is publishable after the verdict, and the trials are still open to public viewing, so it's not like this is a secret court or anything.

Also, the publication ban only (usually) relates to evidence that will be presented in trial. Things like "Mr. Pickton was charged with 3 more murders," or "Mr. Pickton has pleaded innocent" do not violate the publication ban.

On the whole, I think it's good. Trying to keep a jury fom prejudging is admirable, and letting the Toronto/Vancouver/Calgary Sun publish details of the case beforehand is really going to make that tough.
posted by Fabulon7 at 10:28 AM on November 21, 2002


The Canadian publication ban successfully protected the identity of the hacker "Mafia Boy" from becoming well known, which is strange because there is no obligation on American media or web sites to obey Canadian publication bans. Anyone know who he is?

Regarding the Holmolka case (hey you heard Springer wants her as a guest), while anyone could get details of the case off the internet, the publication ban was able to keep enough people in the dark that getting a untainted jury pool was a bit easier.

So these publication bans are dumb but not totally unaffective.
posted by bobo123 at 10:59 AM on November 21, 2002


The Canadian publication ban successfully protected the identity of the hacker "Mafia Boy" from becoming well known, which is strange because there is no obligation on American media or web sites to obey Canadian publication bans. Anyone know who he is?

Actually, it wasn't published because he was a minor, and his identity is protected by the Young Offender's act here in Canada. The Young Offender's Act is criminal law in Canada, so it's not exactly identical to a publication ban.

It is never legal to release his name, unlike in the case described in this article where the evidence is allowed to be published as soon as the trial is completed.
posted by aubin at 11:17 AM on November 21, 2002


...there is no obligation on American media or web sites to obey Canadian publication bans...

Other than, say, respect. But we all know just how respectful America (gross overgeneralization acknowledged) is toward other societies.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:27 AM on November 21, 2002


As the internet and communications technology in general advances, it will get easier and easier for those interested to circumvent these rules. However, this will be balanced by information overload. The ability to disseminate information will be balanced by the sheer volume of information available.

Therefore, a publication ban will continue to work for the majority of people, and there will be an informed minority unable to take part in the jury process. Perhaps publication bans are not necessary for justice, then, but they're certainly good for it. They're not perfect, but they do the job.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 11:27 AM on November 21, 2002


fff: by your logic, then, we should have respected and obeyed the USSR's bans on Solzhenitsin, and should respect and obey any ban on publishing Falun Gong material that the PRC might have, and should be respecting and obeying the fatwa against Rushdie?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:39 AM on November 21, 2002


I'm a (Canadian) journalist, and I support a publication ban in certain cases where the nature of the evidence might taint a jury pool. The Homolka/Bernardo case was one of those; judging from what has already been published about the Pickton case -- and what I've picked up back-channel from other journalists and people watching the investigation -- the upcoming Pickton case will rival Homolka/Bernardo as a gruesome display of the potential for human evil.

When it comes to criminal proceedings, the media are a critical part: They act as a possible break against judge/lawyer malfeasance; they are the channel by which the public sees that justice has been done. That being said, the public does not have an absolute right to hear all the gory details about a particular case, especially if it might predispose too much of the population to form an opinion about the guilt or innocence of the accused.

But of course, all that tidy logic is shaken by this interwebthingy. In Homolka/Bernardo, the bag leaked but still held water. That won't be the case with Pickton. The (probably American) media will publicise whatever they can; it will influence jurors.

Put simply, I think Mr Pickton's right to a fair jury pool far outweighs any American media's need to exploit Mr Pickton's victims for higher ratings/more circulation. Toss 'em out of the court. Only allow a pool reporter, and only allow them to talk to other Canadian media sources. Wrap the whole thing in the threat of jail time if they break publication conditions.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:42 AM on November 21, 2002


Ladies and gentlemen, a big round of applause for ROU_xenophobe and his demonstration of the fine art of non sequitur!
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:08 PM on November 21, 2002


FYI, more info on the case (though slightly outdated) can be found here (self-fpp link)
posted by trillion at 12:32 PM on November 21, 2002


DevilsAdvocate: Ladies and gentlemen, a big round of applause for ROU_xenophobe and his demonstration of the fine art of non sequitur!

Please explain.
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 1:56 PM on November 21, 2002


Please explain.

How hard can it be to understand? Unless the USSR's ban on Solzhenitsin only related to a criminal trial, and was lifted as soon as the trial was over, the comment is a non sequitur. Or maybe it's just stupid.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 2:02 PM on November 21, 2002


I think it's someone else's who's stupid.
posted by nyxxxx at 3:47 PM on November 21, 2002


How hard can it be to understand? Unless the USSR's ban on Solzhenitsin only related to a criminal trial, and was lifted as soon as the trial was over, the comment is a non sequitur.

Not if you find all censorship abhorrent.

FFF was implying that out of "respect" for Canadians, we should censor what they censor. This would include various kinds of porno along with the arguably-less-awful publication bans. Nothing FFF said was limited to criminal trials.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:57 PM on November 21, 2002


Out of respect for Canda, we would follow the publication ban to ensure a clean jury pool and a fair trial. After all, the USA is founded on the principle that censorship is bad, but also that you are innocent until proven guilty by a jury of your peers. How can we not respect that?
posted by kayjay at 7:05 PM on November 21, 2002


How can we not respect that?

Because it's prior restraint, and prior restraint is far to dangerous a tool to hand to governments for everyday use.

Canada wants to punish people who publish the stuff, that's one thing, but enjoining publication is threatening to physically sieze the presses to prevent publication, which is bad, bad, bad news.

Well, I shouldn't say that. Let a Canadian newspaper violate it and see what happens first.

Me, I see the Pentagon Papers kerfuffle -- where the Washington Post was not restrained from publishing classified military documents -- as a great, shining, happy moment in the world.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:19 PM on November 21, 2002


If *all* censorship is abhorent, for every single reason, for any length of time no matter how short, in any circumstance whatsoever regardless of the consequences, then I guess there isn't much to debate.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 7:41 PM on November 21, 2002


They're digging up corpses of dead hookers on this guy's farm, and everybody in Vancouver knows it. Tell me how they're going to find a truly unbiased jury pool, without a single additional speck of data released by the media.

The limit on American media is similarly mystifying. Canadian citizens, the only ones allowed to be jurors, would have to go out of their way to view or hear American media reports. If you're scouring the internet for scraps of information about this guy, you're going to sit there in court and tell the defense attorney you haven't formed any opinions about the case?
posted by sacre_bleu at 8:12 PM on November 21, 2002


Would have to go out of their way? As if. We do get ABC, NBC, FOX, CNN, NBS, and all the rest of the cruft up here, y'know.

There'd be a helluva outcry from the USA if the Canadian media were to get their hands on some daft American secret and then flaunted it all over the airwaves.

Look, peeps, this is a Canadian trial being done using Canadian rules. Go back to your own bloody courtrooms, and leave our's alone until we're done with the job. When it's okay for our guys to spill the beans, it'll be okay for you to spill 'em, too.

It's called common decency. Y'all might want to look into it some time; it'd be the kind of thing that'd get you more respected 'round the globe.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:18 PM on November 21, 2002


How about you Canadans go back to your homes and your country and stop working here in the US and bitching about us all the time?

If it's not our business what you do then it's not your business what we do.

I think everyone should leave everyone else the hell alone and stop all the meddling. That's what would get respect aroudn the globe.

And personally I don't give a fuck what the rest of the world thinks about the US. We are Jolly Green Giants that trod upon the earth.
posted by nyxxxx at 9:28 PM on November 21, 2002


There'd be a helluva outcry from the USA if the Canadian media were to get their hands on some daft American secret and then flaunted it all over the airwaves.

Probably. But if the US were trying to prevent its publication, Canada would still be right in trumpeting it all over the airwaves, printing gigantic print runs, and air-dropping it all over the US by the planeload.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:40 PM on November 21, 2002


There'd be a helluva outcry from the USA if the Canadian media were to get their hands on some daft American secret and then flaunted it all over the airwaves.

You mean the DeCSS code? Heh, sorry for joking, but that's an example of an American secret that's legal in Canada.
posted by bobo123 at 12:30 AM on November 22, 2002


Would a media ban be violated by American media outlets for the idealistic principles of the public's right to know and to be protected from an intrusive government, or merely for the increased advertising revenues that come from a sensationalistic story?
I have my doubts that the good of the Canadian public is the prime motivator for any media corporation (American or otherwise), and as such, should not be used to justify their actions.
posted by cardboard at 10:58 AM on November 22, 2002


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