A Lesson In Media Law


Media law 101

Like many, we’ve been following with concern, the media coverage surrounding the disappearance of a young woman in Bendigo, who failed to return home from an afternoon jog earlier this week.


Thankfully, the missing woman was located by police late yesterday afternoon and has since been released from hospital and reunited with her family. A man was taken into custody last night and arrested by police in connection with the case.


If you’ve been following these events as they’ve unfolded, you will be aware that the missing woman’s face and name have been plastered all over social media and in the mainstream media across Australia for the past 36 hours.


You may also have noticed that the coverage has changed markedly today, and now media outlets are choosing not to identify the teenager ‘because of the nature of the police investigation’.


Many members of the public have today expressed confusion as to why the media is now refraining from identifying the woman, when identification didn’t appear to be an issue over the past few days.


Some are vilifying media outlets for changing their tact, and questioning why it was okay to identify her one day, but not the next.


“Isn’t it a bit late to be worried about identifying the teenager now?’ is a common thread on social media posts and tweets this afternoon.


While that seems a reasonable question to ask under the circumstances, it is important to understand the limitations the law places on media outlets in reporting on cases such as this one before pulling out the keyboard warrior card.


During the past few days, the media has rightly treated this story as a missing person’s case, whereby the public identification of the missing woman was required to assist police in her search.


Now that the woman has been located, however, and a man has been arrested and taken into custody by police, in the eyes of the law everything changes.


Under media law, as soon as a warrant is issued, someone is arrested or a charge is laid, the case enters the ‘sub judice’ period (under a judge).


At this point, until facts related to a crime are mentioned in open court, reporters are restricted to reporting just the bare facts. And where identification is an issue – such as in the case of victims of sexual assaults – journalists are also prohibited from directly or indirectly identifying them.


Whilst the exact nature of this case is yet to be established, media outlets are operating with overt caution to ensure their coverage moving forward does not hold them in contempt of court.


Our thoughts and heartfelt wishes are with the young Bendigo woman and her family at this time.


X Lee.