Rolf Harris case and British press coverage

Recently Australian entertainer Rolf Harris was arrested and then charged with child sex abuse charges. Yet even after he’d been arrested British newspapers refused to name him as a suspect. Even now, the Daily Mail won’t allow comments on some Harris stories “for legal reasons”. I’ve heard mentions of legal threats by his lawyers, but even over internet comments? What are the reasons the British press was so reluctant to mention these stories? And why were bloggers able to mention them before the newspapers?

The Daily Mail seems to have a blanket ban on comments for all on-going criminal cases, this seems to be fairly common among British papers. It wasn’t always this way, but I think after a few rapped knuckles it has become standard policy. The reason for this I believe is that they would be liable as publishers for any comments that may be in contempt of court and once a case has got to the Crown Court, Circuit Judges and High Court Judges will generally not tolerate any coverage that could prejudice a jury trial.

Usually however the right of the press to publish certain details such as identifying the defendant and the charges against the defendant are pretty much sacrosanct (the only exceptions I’m aware of are sex cases where identifying the defendant could potentially lead to the identification of the victim or where there are national security implications). In the Rolf Harris case it seems that some papers were overly cautious in the wake of legal threats which were pure bluster in the reporting of Harris’s arrest.

PR pro tip for his wife: When your husband is facing trial for allegedly producing indecent images of children, don’t tell the press that he’s coping with the arrest “by pursuing his artwork.”

Were any of the images of a tied down kid named Joey?

Maybe he was working on this verse, while playing with his digeridoo:

To answer the last part first, non-UK bloggers are not bound by UK law. As for the rest there are issues concerning the presumption of innocence. Plus, the papers are treading very carefully due to a recent case where an innocent man was attacked by the press over a murder and sued and got considerable compensation.

It will be a contempt of court to publish material that might prejudice an unbiased trial, including - to make a more general point - details of a defendant’s past criminal record, allegations about previous patterns of behaviour, and speculations about guilt and innocence. Nor do jurors get to write books about the trial afterwards. There is no First Amendment here, nor do we feel the want of one.

Speak for yourself. I for one would certainly feel more secure with a constitutional right to free speech. A First Amendment would certainly have prevented the government gradually whittling away such freedom as they have done over the last couple of decades.


ETA: N.M. Ninja’d

I can’t find a good link about the relevant law - I’m on my phone, so maybe somebody else can find one. But basically the law is that you are not allowed to discuss current court cases in a way that may prejudice the trial. You are allowed to report the facts and what is said in court, but speculation is forbidden. I assume some speculation is in fact allowed if it wouldn’t prejudice the case, but that would be a grey area murky enough that people just avoid it altogether.

This applies to bloggers, messageboards, comments on news articles, Twitter, Facebook, everything, if the user is based in the UK or if the site is. Twitter and Facebook would be harder to prosecute though, and I’ve never heard of such a case (which doesn’t mean there haven’t been any. There may well have been).

For example, on a UK messageboard I go on, there is this warning in a sticky:

However, you can say what you like * before* it goes to court. Hence bloggers in the UK could say what they liked before then. Bloggers - and newspapers, etc - outside the UK on non-UK hosted sites can say what they like any time.

There are also proscriptions against reporting the names of those under 18 (including the accused, at least until they are convicted, when they can be named) and the names of alleged victims in cases of sexual abuse, rape, etc.

This lead to a slightly ridiculous situation where a British teacher absconded to France with his underage student and her name was all over the news while people tried to find them, but once he was charged saying her name was verboten even though everyone already knew it.

I actually think this was right and good, because allowing her name to be published would set a dangerous precedent whereby you can freely report a minor’s or victim’s name any time as long as you can establish that someone, somewhere had already reported it. It did appear daft in this particular case but it made sense, and means that her name is already less-known and less connected to the case.

I think you’re confused, pal.

It is a legal matter, it is not a “story” beyond so far unproven accusations.

Lets talk about it after the court case, if there is anything to talk about after the case.

I must say, I hope its not true. Rolf Harris has been around on British TV since I was a little kid (at which time he was mainly a children’s entertainer, I think), and I never got the creepy vibe from him that I did from Jimmy Savile. Furthermore, as an entertainer, Harris was quite an original, and although some of his stuff was rather cringeworthily sentimental, he had far more talent in his little finger than Savile had in… well, anywhere.

Yep, he’s still got it, too. He was great on have I got news for you a couple years ago, where old celebs normally get torn to shreds by paul and ian.

If he’s convicted, that’s it, every male celeb over 40 will be an assumed pedo. Please be normal rolf…

Rolf Harris is charged with the offence of “making an indecent image”. In terms of the Act, this does not actually necessarily mean taking an indecent photograph. The act of displaying on screen is “making”. It is possible to be guilty of “making” just as the result of a Google image search, particularly if you used a broad search with an artistic term like “nude” - you get a collection of images which are displayed (thus constituting “making”), and the evidence preserved in the internet cache and ISP access logs. I can think of some classic 70s album covers that if you googled and viewed would constitute “making” if someone searched your computer. It is up to a jury to determine intent (was the search term carelessly broad or deliberately specific).

Note: I am not claiming any special knowledge of the case - this is a general thing, but in UK legal terminology the term “making” is somewhat broader than the usual meaning of the term.

The other charges are historic - and while I don’t have any time for people who molest and abuse children, I am also suspicious of long-suppressed memories that only surface years after the fact - research show that they are rarely accurate. We (humans) shape our memories in the remembering, and they can be manipulated by those who help us remember. I have no doubt that some of the actions attributed to Jimmy Saville occurred - he was a product of his time, and he took advantage of that, no question. But I am skeptical of all of them (when most accusations are by women, you have to seriously question the few events claimed by men, for example). He isn’t around to defend himself, so we may never actually know. I just hope that Rolf Harris is not prejudged before the trial starts, is all.

I don’t think any of the Yewtree accusations are based on “long-suppressed memories,” which I am also extremely sceptical of.

Some of the Savile accusations have multiple witnesses and also accusations made, but charges not brought, at the time they occurred, including a nurse who reported him having inappropriate relations with dead bodies. They seem fairly solid accusations.

Plus Savile boasted in his own autobiography about making a girl from a children’s home have sex with him. We’re not just talking “groupies who turn out to be underage” with Savile.

I too hope that Harris isn’t guilty. This seems to be a common sentiment - whereas nobody was surprised about Savile, that’s not the case with Harris. No former colleagues in other countries saying “yeah, he was all about the jailbait.” No videos of him groping teenagers live on TV. No admission of guilt, like with Stuart Hall (eventually).

FWIW I think the definition of “making” involves downloading, which could mean viewing an image and it being in your cache, but would not include something coming up in a Google image search unless you clicked on one of the image results. Google doesn’t automatically create a cache of things you haven’t even clicked on.

As I say, some of the evidence against Saville is solid (and some comes from the evidence of his own biography). He should have been arrested and charged years ago, and given the opportunity to mount a defense (if he could). I just dislike the impunity with which he can be attacked now he is dead.

Some of the guys caught up in Yewtree were guilty - some admitted things and were charged. Some behaved in ways we might not approve of, but did not commit criminal acts (although if they did the same thing now, they might well have done). I’m not calling for a whitewash.

And it isn’t just long-supressed memory I’m concerned about - any old memory we have to recall gets coloured by our current perception. And if those memories are drawn out by lawyers and police officers and a feverish speculation in the media, they may be suspect. And there may be no defense - I couldn’t tell you my movements from 20-30 years ago, not in any detail.

Finally, as far as I can tell, there isn’t really a distinction between downloading and viewing when browsing on the internet - if it is on your screen (even in a thumbnail, as per a Google Image search), it has made it’s way to your computer and has probably been cached - it doesn’t matter if it came from Google’s database or directly from the source URL. It just depends how deeply they want to search. I disagree (technically), but the law does not always work like that.

From prior thread on same subject:

Yep. That O.J., such a nice guy.

I mostly agree with you about memories from long ago. Although I think even historic allegations need evidence more than alleged-victim testimony to get a guilty verdict - otherwise they’d all be found guilty, and they’re not. Michael le Vell was found not guilty recently, for example.

I really don’t think a thumbnail image you never click on counts. You don’t click on a link, it’s not in your cache. Even your search history would only show the terms you searched for, not what Google returned. Hopefully someone with better info can clarify.

This is easiest to demonstrate in Firefox:

Open a tab and go to Google Image - search on something (I chose Michelle Pfeiffer).
Right click on the results page, and select View Page Info. Select the **Media **icon.
Page down through the images - some media (marked as data:image/) are inline data delivered as part of the web page. The majority are marked as https://encrypted-… - these are urls to the Google static cache, but the images (not being inline elements) will be cached by the browser.
You can open a new Firefox tab and type about:cache to explore the cache and see what is stored in there - you might want to empty the cache first. I could certainly see the images from my search in the cache.