ANALYSIS: One of Australia’s highest profile individuals with a worldwide reputation and a mass following has this week been found guilty of committing awful, heinous crimes. While several overseas media publications are now reporting the news, the nation’s local media is forbidden from revealing even the barest of details in what is one of the biggest outcomes in Australian criminal legal history. True Crime News Weekly’s Melbourne correspondent, Gary Johnston, reports on this travesty of open justice in the digital age.
Thousands of convicted criminals in Victoria and across Australia are named and shamed in media outlets every day. Ordinary people, with limited funds and thus, extremely limited legal representation.
Why then, is it that the outcome of one of – if not the biggest – criminal trials in Australian history has allegedly been suppressed, despite the apparent fact that the perpetrator was found guilty, unanimously, by jury verdict in Melbourne, earlier this week?
In accordance with other media outlets in Australia, True Crime News Weekly is not allowed to publish details of this conviction, other than to say that the case in question is exceptionally high profile and has, indeed, world-wide significance.
As such, several overseas media outlets out of the jurisdiction of Australian law are now reporting this highly significant news, with the stories being widely shared across social media despite the court’s suppression order.
In contrast, the local Australian media is prohibited from even publishing the fact of the conviction or the identity of the criminal offender, let alone any details of the crimes committed.
The offender – represented by one of the nation’s leading barristers – is a household name in Australia and beyond, with the matter being the subject of no little discussion for several years.
It is no exaggeration to say that this is arguably the biggest court outcome in Australian history.
It is further understood that bail has been granted to the offender ahead of their sentencing by the court next February. It was the second time the case was tried after an earlier jury could not reach a conclusion.
The suppression order, issued by the Victorian County Court, has been imposed due to the offender being subject to additional charges with a separate trial scheduled for next March. The order prevents any publication of the details of the case including the person’s name or the charges. It was granted after a court found that knowledge of the findings of the just-completed first trial could potentially prejudice the second criminal trial.
Several of the country’s leading journalists and mainstream media groups – including News Corp and Nine – have now come out strongly against the use of the suppression order, arguing that they have been placed in a “bizarre” situation.
“The courts demand that you ignore the story totally until they see fit,” the front-page editorial of Thursday’s Daily Telegraph reads. “But we think that would be a disservice to the readers of The Telegraph.
“We are also well aware that many of our readers have probably read the international stories written about this person that are accessible online, outside the jurisdiction of the Australian courts. It would therefore be bizarre to publish today’s newspaper without raising what we think is an archaic curb on freedom of the press in the current digitally connected world.
“Our political representatives need to fix those laws which run contrary to the universal principles of the open administration of justice. We believe you have the right to know this story now and without further delay.”
Melbourne’s The Age newspaper meanwhile has also assured its readers that they are well aware of “this major issue in the public interest”.
“We, like all media organisations, are required by law to adhere to suppression orders and breaching such a suppression order is taken very seriously by the court, and could lead to charges of contempt of court,” the editorial by The Age’s investigations editor, Michael Bachelard, reads.
“Victoria uses more suppression orders than any other jurisdiction in Australia, with the state accounting for more than half of such orders nationally.
“The wide dissemination of the suppressed information online, however, highlights the challenges of the suppression regime in some high-profile cases of public interest.”
The ABC investigative journalist and award-winning author, Louise Milligan, has as well lashed out at the all-encompassing suppression order preventing any discussion of the case in Australia.
“The editorials of nation’s newspapers on Victoria, the Suppression State, are pertinent & timely,” Milligan posted on Twitter on December 12.
“The erosion of open courts principle in Vic has troubled me for years. But never more so, more personally and painfully than now. You either believe in open justice or you do not.”
True Crime News Weekly as a responsible news service with a proven track record of ethical reporting, will of course accede to the terms of the suppression order.
But whilst we respect the process of law, we would also remind readers that the provision of suppression, in order to protect convicted criminals with pending matters, is rarely made available to those without power, influence, expensive legal counsel and extraordinarily, being one of the most important persons within a powerful and wealthy organisation.
– Additional reporting by Serkan Ozturk