Internet suppression orders face challenge
Sydney Morning Herald
COURT orders suppressing online media coverage of alleged criminal offenders about to go on trial are futile because vast swathes of the internet are beyond the court's control, lawyers representing eight Australian media companies claim.
The media organisations are appealing against a suppression order made in relation to the trial of Fadi Ibrahim, Michael Ibrahim, and Rodney Atkinson, who have been charged with conspiracy to murder.
Before their trial, NSW District Court Judge James Bennett made an order which had the effect of requiring certain stories about the men published on the internet to be taken down. It attempted to address the possibility of jurors finding reports of unrelated events concerning the alleged offenders. It applied to all websites hosted within Australia.
But the media companies - which include the publisher of the Herald, Fairfax Media - are appealing the take-down order in the Court of Criminal Appeal.
During a hearing on Friday before Chief Justice Tom Bathurst, Justice John Basten and Justice Anthony Whealy, the media companies argued the order was futile and unfairly restricted their right to communicate freely.
''We say that an order of this kind has very little utility,'' counsel for the media companies, Tom Blackburn, SC, said.
''The claimants took down a very large number of online articles [following the order], but there is still a vast amount of material out there that the claimants have no control over, in particular there is a huge amount of material overseas that the orders can't reach.
''We can't control the actions of Google and Bing. [So] you can remove a large number of articles which might be caught [by the orders] but the net effect is that the remaining articles just move up in the search hierarchy and take the place of those that have been removed.''
Mr Blackburn said his clients were ''in the business of making information available'' and the order was an unfair restriction on their right to do so.
But counsel for Mr Atkinson and Michael Ibrahim, Peter Lange, said the right to a fair trial took precedence over the right to free communication.
''Mr Blackburn is asking the court to simply throw its hands in the air and say 'well there's nothing we can do,' but we do not believe all the available options have been expended,'' he said.
He said in some situations it would be essential for the court to prevent online publication - even if it was made overseas - such as in matters of national security.
The three-judge appeal panel has reserved its decision.
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