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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Canadian courtroom opens to twitter and blackberry

This past two weeks or so, mainstream media in Canada has regaled us with graphic tweets and pictures of the murder case of a (former? ex?) Colonel of the Canadian military. To me, this has been an interesting study in just how much the mainstream media is willing to share. For the first time, reporters have been using electronic devices in a Canadian courtroom. It is not, of course, the first time that media has reported every last gasp of unfolding tragedies. New York 9/11, anyone? Remember 7/7 in London?

There have been other sensationalised murder cases in Canadian courts, which supplied ample gory details. Paul Bernardo was tried and convicted of murdering two young Ontario women, and Robert Picton, a pig farmer convicted of murdering six women in BC. Both those cases were reported (ad nauseum) but there was no electronic connection with inside the court. In this Williams case, media corporations applied to the judge to be allowed to live blog, tweet, etc minute by minute testimonies.

From the National Post:

Judge rules in media application over trial of Col. Williams

Colonel Russell Williams makes a court appearance In Belleville, Ont., on Oct. 7, 2010.

Kagan McLeod/National Post

Colonel Russell Williams makes a court appearance In Belleville, Ont., on Oct. 7, 2010.

Adrian Humphreys, National Post · Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010

BELLEVILLE, Ont. — A judge ruled Thursday that accredited journalists covering the Col. Russell Williams case will be allowed to use electronic devices to file updates from the courtroom.

Williams, the former commander of Canada’s largest military airbase, says he will plead guilty to killing two women, sexually assaulting two others and committing a long list of fetish burglaries. He will appear in court in Belleville, in eastern Ontario, on Monday to enter his plea.

Thursday’s hearing was hastily arranged last week after reporters arriving to cover Williams’ trial were told they could not use electronic devices in the courtroom. A reporter with Postmedia News requested permission from Justice Robert Scott to send live electronic updates through Twitter from the courtroom during the proceedings using a BlackBerry. Other reporters had asked to use laptop computers to take notes on the high-profile case.

The judge heard legal arguments from media lawyers Thursday.

Williams will appear next week under high security. His lawyer, Michael Edelson, told court his client will plead guilty to all counts.

Two indictments filed in court charge him with: two counts of first-degree murder; two counts of sexual assault; two counts of forcible confinement; and 86 counts of break-and-enter and theft in deviant fetish raids of women’s underwear and other items.

The case has made headlines around the world because of the double life it’s alleged Williams led as a respected and decorated military official...

Read more here.

Long time readers of mine know I am a keen follower of the mainstream media. I am a news junkie. I also have been known in the past to 'gently' chide practitioners of the craft of journalism who I perceive as crossing my long-held line of decency and ethics. Some of my previous columns: I wrote on (and to) Nick Meo here; I have taken Michael Yon to task (maybe not so gently) here. I have written about the BBC here, and wrote on AP publishing pictures of a dying Marine - with up close and very personal pictures. This despite Robert Gates, and the Marines family, expressly asking AP not to print those private last moments of their son's life. I also looked briefly at the history of war reporting here.

My own views on what the public has the 'right to know,' and what the msm should be sharing with the consumer public, are well-documented. In this Williams case, there has been renewed debate on this right to know. Some have said that the public needs to know the depth of depravity of this convicted murderer's actions. This case tested both journalists and editors as to the limits of what they would share in order to feed what the public 'needed' to know of the facts of this case. Quite apart from the fact that I am technically challenged, so would have been totally inept in my coverage, I am so glad I was not a journalist in that courtroom, with the expectation that I would divulge every sordid detail of what happened to Williams' numerous victims.

I have not been the only observer of how the media handled the freedom of the press as ruled on in this case by the Judge presiding over this specific trial.

International media drawn to depraved Williams case

Postmedia News October 21, 2010

The eyes of the world have turned to unassuming Belleville, Ont., as the shocking details of Col. Russell Williams' sexual assaults, murders, and perversions generate headlines and discussion far beyond Canada's borders.

International media, from the New York Times to the Sunday Times of South Africa, from Der Spiegel to La Figaro, have published articles on the lurid testimony and evidence offered this week.

By one count, Williams has appeared in leading national newspapers or news websites in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Russia, Italy, France, Spain, South Africa, Brazil, India, Mexico, and more....

I have much more to say here.