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U.K. Media Appeal Reporting Ban
Background information on Al-Jazeera trial widely available outside the U.K.
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2007-07-13 03:37 (KST)   
U.K. media have asked the Court of Appeal to overrule a decision by a trial judge to impose a permanent ban on reporting the details of the case under the Official Secrets Act about the Al-Jazeera memo.

Andrew Nicol QC (Queen's Counsel) -- for the BBC, Times, Telegraph and 14 other media organizations -- told three appeal judges headed by Lord Phillips, the Lord Chief Justice: "We say that the restrictions cannot be made to last in perpetuity as the judge purported to do."

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Two months ago, after a trial held mostly in secret, David Keogh was sentenced to six months in prison and Leo O'Connor to three months for leaking a memo.

Outside the U.K. it was widely known that this memo was reported in 2005 by the Daily Mirror to be about a discussion between George Bush and Tony Blair on bombing Al-Jazeera at the time of reports from Fallujah.

The media concern is that Justice Aikens prevented linking of the Al-Jazeera story to the case during the trial and has made an order under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act that prevents such reporting indefinitely.

Nicol made the case for the media that the purpose of the restriction order was to avoid the risk of substantial prejudice being caused to the trial. As reported in the Northampton Chronicle, he said, "The only sensible inference is that the order can have no purpose once the proceedings are concluded because they can no longer be prejudiced."

As reported by the Times, a second order under the Contempt of Court Act prevents "reporting a remark made by Keogh when he was being questioned in open court by his counsel." The Times reports only that Keogh had made a statement "in graphic terms."

The Press Gazette has reported that media will argue that "Aikens failed to give sufficient weight to the important public interest in publishing fair and accurate reports of evidence given in open court."

The Press Gazette also explains some of the complications for U.K. media in reporting the trial.

His ban on publishing material which "would or might" reveal evidence given while the court was sitting in secret left journalists having to conduct a guessing game as to the nature of the evidence given in the secret hearings.

It also meant that information which was in the public domain, and had already been widely reported, could not be used to give readers background to the trial.

Mr. Justice Aikens himself acknowledged this -- at the end of the trial, while discussing the section 11 order, he said: "Any journalist will have to ensure in his own mind that they are not making an impermissible link.

"This does mean that the members of the press and their colleagues in other media can continue to recycle information which is currently in the public domain so long as any material published or broadcast does not suggest that that information equals or may equal the evidence or statements concerning the matters that were dealt with in camera in this trial "
The consequence has been that reports about the trial and reports about Al-Jazeera have been forced to appear on different pages.

There have been no U.K. reports linking the trial and remarks by David Blunkett on Channel 4 stating that "taking out" Al-Jazeera was discussed in a conversation with Tony Blair at the start of the Iraq war. The Daily Mirror reported that when asked whether he was worried that this would be "outside the rules of engagement," Blunkett said, "There wasn't a worry from me because I believed that this was a war and in a war you wouldn't allow the broadcast to continue taking place."

This is relevant to the credibility of the original Daily Mirror report.

As reported in the Washington Post, the first statement from White House spokesman Scott McClellan was -- "We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response."

This has been described by
Dan Froomkin as a "non-denial denial." He also claimed that "nothing arouses White House reporters more these days than a non-denial denial," but later added, "I apparently overestimated the mainstream press corps' baloney detectors."

There has been no response to requests from Al-Jazeera under the Freedom of Information Acts in the U.S. and U.K.

The Court of Appeal reserved judgment to a later date.
Related stories in the Froomkin fan blog.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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