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‘Naming and shaming’ juvenile offenders or open justice? A new battle over press freedom

Jueves, 13 de Junio de 2019 | Oceanía, Australia
The Conversation
Noticia

For the past week, momentum has been building for a national parliamentary inquiry into media freedom following the police raids on ABC and News Corp journalists.

But the issue of press freedom isn’t restricted to Canberra – there’s another contentious debate taking place at the moment in the Northern Territory over a plan by the government to close the NT’s courts to the media in cases involving young offenders.

The debate centres on a bill that would introduce the nation’s most restrictive rules on reporting on juvenile offenders, including punishments of up to a year in jail for journalists who enter a juvenile court or publish details of any case.

The court closures were recommended by the Don Dale Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children, which made numerous recommendations to address the failures of the NT’s juvenile justice system. The commission said that imposing restrictions on the media in cases like these would be beneficial to young offenders and those accused of crimes, the vast majority of whom are Indigneous.

In its final report, the commission said:

Media reporting identifying young offenders can affect their prospects of rehabilitation, their sense of identity and their connection to the community.

It also quoted a young witness, who said that when his name was published by the media

it made me feel like everybody knew that I was a criminal and not a person … It feels like the public can see right through me … I began to feel like I was a lost cause.

The so-called “naming and shaming” of young offenders has been a part of the media’s coverage of the territory’s courts for many years. The NT is the only jurisdiction in Australia where youth proceedings are held in open court, unless the court orders them closed.

More than a decade ago, NT barrister Mark Hunter detailed examples of children being pursued by photographers outside territory courthouses. One was identified and described in the Northern Territory News as a “bored thug”.

In another instance, a 15-year-old offender was named and his photograph twice run on the newspaper’s front page, Hunter recounted.

He explained that past attempts by defence attorneys to suppress the identities of young offenders had been rejected by judges on the grounds it would infringe on open justice and press freedom. It was also believed that “shaming” offenders would purportedly assist with their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

However, a study by criminologists Duncan Chappell and Robyn Lincoln on media coverage of Indigenous youth in the NT, found that publicly identifying offenders actually had a number of adverse effects. These included limiting their opportunities for an adequate defence and reinforcing stereotypes of Indigenous criminality.

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