As the media works itself into a frenzy over Today Tonight’s teenage assault DVD scoop, some of the footage aired on Today Tonight — and splashed across papers like The Herald Sun and The Age — clearly depicts the faces of some of the teenagers involved.

At least two of the dozen teenage boys who filmed themselves degrading and abusing a teenage girl in the Melbourne suburb of Werribee are under investigation for rape. So should these minors be identified?

Technically, the media outlets haven’t broken any law, as no-one has yet been charged in relation to the offence.  And many would argue that these DVD stars are fair game — they shot, edited and then distributed their disturbing behaviour and courted notoriety by posting parts of their movie on YouTube.

But criminal lawyer and immediate past president of the Australia Law Council, John North, told Crikey that these minors should still be protected. “The way this crime has come about is due to modern technology but the law is there to protect children from themselves and this is a good example of why the law exists,” says North.

“In cases such as this, where young people have shown obvious stupidity, susceptibility to peer group pressure and the total inability to understand a victim’s feelings, it exemplifies why the law protects children as it does,” says North. 

But by including their real names on the cover of the DVD and in the credits, didn’t these teenagers invite this scrutiny? “The responsible media should recognise that publishing images of adolescents could lead to them being the subject of vilification within their own community and this is one of the things that criminal law tries to avoid,” says North. “Feelings of outrage and disgust are rarely a good basis for properly implementing the criminal law… ”

Meanwhile, how culpable is YouTube in all of this? The Age is reporting that the online video-sharing site has removed the offending video from their site. Usually YouTube users flag content as inappropriate content (a similar system is used by eBay and craigslist). YouTube then reviews the video to determine whether it violates their terms of use — but flagged videos are not automatically taken down by the system. The three videos from the Werribee teenagers were uploaded more than three months ago and had accrued more than 9,000 views on the website.

Today the entries can be seen, but clicking them brings up the message: “This video has been removed due to terms of use violation.” Crikey contacted YouTube for a comment but they didn’t get back to us before publication time.