Journalism and Contempt Research Assignment

  Journalism and Contempt
Journalism and Contempt

Journalism and Contempt

Order Instructions:

What is contempt and should journalists be charged with contempt against the court for refusing to reveal sources?

Use CONTEMPORARY examples of this issue such as cases, articles and links to YouTube videos to furthermore bring light to the issue.

Discuss the use of shield laws in Australia ( and its effectiveness.

Discuss how modern technology and social media may cause further contempt issues for journalists.

Read the added file for more information.


                           Journalism and Contempt

We normally do not understand what contempt really is. Contempt, in legal terms, is the act of interfering with the advocated course of justice. In Australia, contempt is the deliberate attack on the status and dignity of the court systems (Phillip, 2010). Journalists in Australia are usually charged with contempt for the failure to reveal sources to their information at the court of law (Media Law Resource Center, 2013). I stand firm to argue that journalists should be charged in court with contempt. This is because it undermines the authority of the courts by endeavoring to influence participants in the proceedings, which can happen through publication or action such as physical threats to safety at extreme (Overbeck & Belmas, 2011). Failure to provide the requested information by the court is total disobedience. I would recommend that journalists should be charged with contempt if their publications tend to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.

Several cases are evident showing certain journalists charged with contempt in Australia. Two Melbourne journalists, Gerald McManus and Michael Harvey, is one group charged with contempt in 2007 who apparently, had written an article for the Herald Sun Newspaper (Pracene, 2005). Subsequently, criminal charges were brought against Commonwealth Public Servant, who was alleged to be the source of information for the story. Both Gerald and McManus refused to give information as requested by the court, and were consequently fined $7000 each. Another case that confirms my stand on charging journalists with contempt is that of three Fairfax journalists in Supreme Court of New Wales (Riles, 2011). Justice Lucy McCallum ordered the journalist tool reveal identity of sources used to publish the story about a publication on defamation regarding a Chinese property developer, Helen Liu (Wijckmans, Tuytschaever & Vanderelst, 2006). The is a video in the you tube that show the article ‘Backpacker serial killings’ was fined $100000 for using the picture of Ivan Milat, who had been accused for slaying 7 hitchhikers as told by his brother Wally.

The next area I would like to discuss is use of Shield laws in Australia and its effectiveness. Shield laws are used in shielding journalists from revealing very sensitive data to the court that can lead to the prosecution of the source of the informant (Mandiberg, 2012). Shield laws can be said to be geared to protect the freedoms of the source of first-hand information. Shield laws, on the other hand, are used to relieve journalists from personal and professional harms. It is reported that period 2001-2002, two journalists in Australia committed suicide due to unknown reasons (Karmen, 2013). Experts in journalism argue that the cause of their death may be as a result of fear of prosecution as the article they had written was sensitive. The effectiveness of the Shield laws is to electrify the freedom of journalist to protect them from being blurred enjoying some services such as visa as it was done to McManus. This enables journalists protect and retain their reputations (Jones, 2010). The Journalists Privilege under the Shield laws provides that a judge will request information about the source of data after evaluating the likely damage to the informant and the ability of the news media to access sources of facts (Willingham, 2013). Another profound effectiveness of Shield laws is that it has enabled governments to be accountable. This is by protecting the journalist from corruption-full dockets of the government that reprimand the freedoms of these journalists (In Meyers, 2010). Accountability can also be felt by the ability of a country able to come down to the common problem and address it from the roots as portrayed by journalists (Zelezny, 2011). At most, transparency and democracy is reinstated to the overall system of justice because freedoms and rights are equivalently controlled and maintained.

The third and final issue I would like to address is how modern technology and social media may cause further contempt issues for journalists. With the emergence of new technology, we experience varied social media platforms where people of varied cultural settings expresses their views freely and confidently (Hunsicker, 2011). However, such information may trigger confusion and conflicts. Journalists have adopted a mechanism of getting information from these social media sites to write articles and publications. This is likely to cause more prosecution of journalists with contempt at courts (Elias, 2012). Most of social medial related information is usually fabricated, and if taken seriously, will lead to the prosecution of the journalist because it is very difficult to get the informant. This is provided by Shield law that argues that journalist must produce the source of the information if the court comes to the conclusion that it is necessary to have the source of data to make a sound judgment about the accused (Chadwick, 2013). Development of technology and social media will also see many journalists going to prison because of unintentional and intentional leak of vital information to wrong persons such as terrorist groups.

I would conclude by saying that journalists with contempt should be charge with if they refuse to provide information for proper operations of stated laws. Shield laws are there to protect both the journalist and the informants. In my views, improvement of technology and social media will increasingly place a heavy responsibility on professional journalists to maintain high standards of fact-checking, honesty and objectivity if considerations such as control are exhibited.


Australia’s Right to Know, Submission to the Inquiry into the Evidence Amendment (Journalist’s Privilege) Bill (2009). Retrieved from:

Chadwick, A. (2013). The hybrid media system: Politics and power. New York: New York University Press.

Elias, O. (2012). The development and effectiveness of international administrative law: On the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the World Bank Administrative Tribunal. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers

Hunsicker, A. (2011). Behind the shield: Anti-riot operations guide. Boca Raton: Universal-           Publishers

In Meyers, C. (2010). Journalism ethics: A philosophical approach. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jones, M. (2010).  Bennett and Philp Lawyers, Client Update: Protecting Journalists’ confidential sources (shield laws).

Karmen, A. (2013). Crime victims: An introduction to victimology. Belmont, CA:   Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Mandiberg, M. (2012). The social media reader. New York: New York University Press.

Media Law Resource Center. (2013). MLRC 50-state survey, 2013-14: Media privacy & related law. Annandale, N.S.W: Federation Press.

Overbeck, W., & Belmas, G. I. (2011). Major principles of media law. Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth.

Pracene, U. C. (2005). Journalists, shield laws and the first amendment: Is the fourth estate under attack?. New York, NY: Nova Science Publ.Sawer, M., Abjorensen, N., & Larkin, P. (2009). Australia: The state of democracy. Annandale, N.S.W: Federation Press.

Phillip, T. (2010, Oct 11). Borrie and Lowe: The Law of Contempt 4th Edition. Retrieved from:

Riles, A. (2011). Collateral knowledge: Legal reasoning in the global financial markets.     Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Wijckmans, F., Tuytschaever, F., & Vanderelst, A. (2006). Vertical agreements in EC competition law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Willingham, R. (2013). Five journalists facing charges make plea on source protection, The Age retrieved from:

Zelezny, J. D. (2011). Communications law: Liberties, restraints, and the modern media.   Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

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