Vivienne Kelly: Open secrets and closed doors

news readership

Looking at the laws that prohibit media from publishing the full detail of some stories

It’s a bizarre phenomenon in media when everybody knows something but won’t – or can’t – talk about it. 

This week, the media has been discussing a “high-profile man” who has been accused of two additional accounts of sexual assault. Due to Queensland’s laws, the man can’t be named by the media unless he is committed to stand trial, which may happen at some point down the track. 

Despite the blockage, a large section of the media and even the general public can join the dots on who it is. 

An open secret with a legal door standing in the way. 

It’s a difficult situation for the media who have a genuine public interest defence in wanting to talk about the story, but can’t actually do it. 

It is expected that a bill will be introduced into the Queensland parliament later this year in a bid to remove the media’s restrictions in identifying pre-committal defendants (perhaps one of many much-needed overhauls on the agenda this year).

Until then though, the industry is stuck with a bizarre information exchange with the public – beaming into people’s homes and filling their screens with stock images of courtroom gavels and silhouettes of generic ‘men’ to dance around an issue.

Meanwhile, internet sleuths put the pieces together for those curious and willing enough to do a quick search

In a bid to find out the full story, I know many people turned to Twitter for the facts, which are probably buried in that increasingly chaotic landscape somewhere. 

The issue with driving people to Twitter in 2023 to see past the closed door and open up the secrets, is that the platform now plays even more fast and loose with facts, falsities and fallacies.

twitter vivienne kelly

There’s a high chance this could get even worse both locally and globally, with reports emerging overnight that it’s laying off even more staff and ending its physical presence in Australia

This year, it will be fascinating to see how the media, both traditional and social, is able to deal with high-profile people accused of high-profile wrongdoings, and if we end the year in a better place than we started.

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