Friday 24 October 2014

Chief Justice warns of social media pitfalls

Published 02/05/2014 | 02:30

From left: Press Ombudsman Prof John Horgan, Susan Denham, The Chief Justice, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, and Kevin Bakhurst, MD of RTE News and Current Affairs at UN World Press Freedom Day in Dublin.

Chief Justice Susan Denham has warned of the perils of social media, saying that once comments are out there, they can't be taken back.

"No retraction suffices," she said.

How new media is used in court cases is becoming "one of our biggest challenges", she said, later describing social media as being "as decentralised as air and as multidirectional as wind – ever present and, at times, all over the place".

Whether it is correct or incorrect information – once something is "out there" via social media it remains so forever. "There is no putting the genie back into the bottle," she warned.

In a keynote speech to a seminar held at the Four Courts marking UN World Press Freedom Day, Mrs Justice Denham said: "The balance is between the need for open courts and maintaining fair trials. Social media can turn up a plethora of information – accurate or inaccurate, libellous or complimentary – on jurors, witnesses, defendants, counsel and judges."

The chief justice said the accredited media in Ireland have shown "a great professionalism" regarding tweeting from court, waiting for evidence or a particular part of a hearing to be complete before doing so.

She also referred to the recent changes to the rules to allow limited reporting of cases involving children and families, saying it ended a "dangerous vacuum" which had existed where cases had not been reported upon.

Meanwhile, RTE's head of news and current affairs Kevin Bakhurst has revealed that their coverage of President Michael D Higgins' official visit to Britain cost the broadcaster €120,000. Mr Bakhurst said he was "very proud" of the coverage provided by the State broadcaster and revealed that in a subsequent survey, "an extraordinary 99pc" of those polled rated RTE's coverage as "good" or "very good", adding that he has not seen these types of figures before. Mr Bakhurst said the President's visit to the UK had barely finished when RTE received FOI requests seeking the cost of the coverage.

"The headline figure for news and current affairs coverage for the visit is likely to be in the region of €120,000."

He added: "It may look high but when you know the component parts it seems less surprising."

Irish Independent

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