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Journalist echoes call for children to be taught Contempt laws

susie-beeverA regional daily journalist has echoed calls by a newspaper’s night editor for children to be taught about Contempt of Court laws.

Huddersfield Daily Examiner breaking news reporter Susie Beever, left, says putting lessons on the curriculum about commenting active court cases “probably wouldn’t be the worst idea”.

Susie was inspired to make the suggestion in a column for the Examiner after seeing HTFP’s story last week about Liverpool Echo night editor Tom Evans, who posed the question as to whether children should receive better education about the laws.

Tom touted the idea after Echo crime reporter Joe Thomas warned readers not to “jeopardise” any potential prosecutions arising from the recent Hillsborough criminal charges in a piece explaining Contempt to readers.

In her own piece for the Examiner, Susie wrote: “There used to be a time when the only people who needed to bother about libel laws and reporting restrictions were journalists.

“But as more of us turn to the keyboard to vent our anger or debate public affairs, it’s no longer just journalists who need to worry about a brush with the law over something we’ve written. Because despite platforms of discussion changing – the law hasn’t. Well, not much.

“Lots of us like to think of ourselves as journalists these days – journalism is, essentially, the spreading of information. From letting Facebook friends know about that weird kid from school who’s been in the dock, to blogging about the latest gaff made by a politician, we’re all contributing to the hothouse of online chatter.

“But not everyone is aware of the dangers – and we need to do more about this. I’ve only been a journalist for four years, but already I’ve seen countless people in the dock and even put behind bars because of something they’ve said online. We teach our children that no-one is above the law, and I feel that should also apply to the way we all use social media.”

She added: “If we are going to use the internet as our main bubble of discussion, we all have a responsibility. The Government, too, should accept part of this responsibility.

“Children seem to be on Facebook the moment they depart from the womb these days, and a little space on the curriculum for what we can and can’t put on social media probably wouldn’t be the worst idea.”

Explaining why the Examiner never posts stories about ongoing court cases to its Facebook page, Susie used the example of an Australian woman who was last year fined the equivalent of £175,000 for writing material online which led to a murder trial collapsing because her words were deemed able of prejudicing the jury’s decision.

Susie told HTFP: “We’ve had plenty of stick for not posting stories about active court cases on Facebook in the past, as though we are trying to prohibit people’s free speech.

“A lot of people seem genuinely unaware that there are restrictions and that they don’t just apply to journalists but to any commentary on a case online.

“I saw a similar piece written by the Liverpool Echo’s crime reporter Tom Evans on prosecutions in the Hillsborough inquiry and thought it was a great opportunity to spread the message that we all bear a little responsibility for ourselves when it comes to what we put out there on the internet.”

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