Craig Thomson's case is back in court today. Peter Wicks looks at some of the recent reporting of the trial by The Australian, taking time to correct the record.
Today, Craig Thomson is back in the Melbourne Magistrates Court as the criminal trial against him finally commences.
However before it does, I have something to clear up.
Back on 12 September 2013, I posted an article called “Pieces Of Truth” that looked at the coverage of Craig Thomson’s criminal case by News Corp Australia, particularly The Australian.
My article made mention of a particularly misleading article published in The Australian on 3 September 2013, providing coverage of Craig Thomson’s criminal case mention in court the previous day.
In my article, I stated:
'According to Greg James QC the article in The Australian has been referred to the Executive Officer Of The Court by the magistrate for possible charges of contempt of court for its authors Ean Higgins and Pia Akerman.'
This statement was disputed. As I was not in attendance at the court that day, I approached the court to ensure that what we reported was factual.
After considerable time and effort, Independent Australia obtained a sound recording of the court mention from the court.
It should be noted that this is something IA had to pay for and took quite a long time to receive, since initially the court inadvertently sent a recording of an entirely different case.
Whilst it is unfortunate we are not allowed to make the recording public – something that I find odd given the court is open to the public – I am now able to provide a transcript of what was actually said by the magistrate on the matter.
As it turns out, Ean Higgins and Pia Akerman were not referred for contempt of court, so I have corrected the record on that post now to bring it into line.
I was informed by a very credible source who was in court for that mention that this was indeed the case, however they were mistaken and for my part in reporting that error I sincerely apologise.
In the interests of setting the record straight, below is a transcript of what Magistrate Rozencwajg said taken directly from the recording of the court mention supplied by the court [IA emphasis].
“Before we commence, at the outset, I feel it is necessary to state that the article on the front page of The Australian last Tuesday reporting on the mention held on the 2nd September was factually incorrect in several significant respects.
"The court certainly made no determination, as declared in the blaring headline — in fact, I made no determination whatsoever.
"I have requested the Court Strategic Communications Advisor to take this issue up with the editor of The Australian newspaper and if necessary the Australian Press Council.”
In fact, in the recording of the hearing that lasts just 15 minutes, The Australian article is mentioned many times, with the magistrate repeatedly pointing out that there were “many factual errors” that were “throughout the article” and were “not limited to the headline”.
Pia Akerman was in the court that day. When I approached her for comment, she claimed that the magistrates' only issue was with the headline. The recording shows that this was clearly not the case.
I have sent an email to the Courts' Strategic Communications Advisor requesting details of The Australian editor's response and also details of the Australian Press Council's response, if indeed it was reported to them.
I will let readers know when a response is received.
I note that unlike myself and Independent Australia, Ean Higgins, Pia Ackeman and The Australian newspaper have yet to correct the record on any of their “factual errors” or given public apologies to Craig Thomson for any harm or upset their distortion of facts may have caused.
Nevertheless, our honest report, based on information received from a former judge, was incorrect in part and we apologise to Ean Higgins and Pia Akerman for this error. The following note has been put next to the incorrect facts in the original piece:
[EDITORS NOTE: 05/12/2013: NOTE, AS SUBSEQUENTLY REPORTED, A SUBSEQUENT AUDIO RECORDING OF THE COURT PROCEEDINGS APPLIED, PAID FOR AND OBTAINED BY IA SHOWED THE MAGISTRATE HAD REFERRED THE MATTER TO THE COURTS AUSTRALIAN'S EDITOR ON THE BASIS OF MULTIPLE FACTUAL ERRORS IN THE REPORT BY PIA AKERMAN AND EAN HIGGINS THE MAGISTRATE ALSO MENTIONED REFERRING THE MATTER TO THE AUSTRALIAN PRESS COUNCIL AND NOT FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT. WE APOLOGISE FOR THIS ERROR TO ANY AND ALL CONCERNED OR AFFECTED, INCLUDING OF COURSE PIA AKERMAN AND EAN HIGGINS.]
I also note that since this event occurred, neither Higgins nor Akerman appear to have been writing on the Thomson case for The Australian. Instead, it has been picked up by Brad Norrington and Rachel Baxendale, whose recent article, 'Craig Thomson Fraud Case In Doubt', seems to have taken a far more factual approach to the matter than those previously covering the case. For this, I congratulate The Australian.
Readers can make their own judgements as to why this change may have occurred.
Another interesting point coming from the court mention recording is that the mainstream media has failed to report on the way the prosecution has handled the defence's decision not to dispute the facts.
When entering a list of the undisputed facts into evidence by the prosecution, the magistrate was not given a copy of the accompanying letter that went with it by the prosecution team. Instead, the defence had to hand over to him a copy of a draft version they been supplied.
Greg James, QC (Image via scu.edu.au)
As Greg James, QC, pointed out to Magistrate Rozencwajg, the prosecutions accompanying letter referred to what were a notice of “facts that are not disputed” as "admissions”. This letter was to be added onto the records by the court in what would appear to be an attempt to sneak the misleading accompanying letter past the Magistrate by the prosecution.
As Greg James pointedly stated in court, “facts that are not disputed” are not admissions of guilt, but rather facts that the defence will not be bothering to debate.
An example in this case would be the watching of an in-house movie worth $15 in a hotel whilst away on business. The two charges relating to the watching of that movie probably cost less than breakfast and are not relevant if Thomson, in fact, had authority to use the credit card that paid the bill for the movie.
Any charge then relating to the use of that card would then be irrelevant and dropped if Thomson is found to have authority to use the card that bore his name.
It is not, in any way, shape or form a “notice of admission” for whatever the prosecution seeks to allege he used the card to purchase.
What was interesting around the coverage of events at the time was the number of mainstream outlets that did use the intentionally misleading and prejudicial line that these were "admissions".
It would appear almost as if the prosecution were feeding media outlets the line, thinking their letter was going to be sneaked past the magistrate.
But surely that couldn’t happen in such a high-profile case?
As I mentioned earlier, the Thomson criminal matter is due back in Court today for a trial that has been set down for a week.
I note that, as yet, the 50 new charges that were to be thrown at Thomson for refusing to take the deal offered to him by the prosecution last week – that was only reported here and by the new and improved reporting team at The Australian – have yet to surface.
I wonder if these charges will be thrown at Thomson today. Along with a list of the new charges passed on to the awaiting and salivating media by the prosecution, not unlike a master feeding a starving dog. After all, they will make great headlines and sound bites to kickstart the week's proceedings.
Trial by media?
The circus continues.
You can follow Peter Wicks on Twitter @MadWixxy.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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