Today’s front page story in the Herald Sun is nothing short of a disgrace and yesterday’s article, “Carey: What a mug,” on the front page of the commuter paper, MX, was as close as you can get to contempt while getting away with it.

Both are typical of the treatment the ex-footballer has been getting at the hands of the media, which seems determined to act as his judge, jury and executioner with complete disregard for the effect the coverage may have on him if he has to face trial.

The piece in today’s Herald Sun — the cover story — is actually beneath contempt. The story is supposedly about girlfriend Kate Neilson’s love for Carey. But the first paragraph is just a lie. It reads: “Wayne Carey’s girlfriend has told of her love for the fallen AFL great as police investigate a mystery substance found at his apartment.”

Bullsh-t. The entire story is based on a blog posted by Neilson last March. This is not revealed until the eighth paragraph. She has not made the comments while the police are investigating last weekend’s incident. But this is justified in the story on the grounds that she had not removed the comments and so therefore they are still valid.

Who does the Herald Sun think it’s kidding?

MX meanwhile has been doing a high wire act, avoiding the stringent rules of subjudice contempt because Carey had not been charged following his arrest for assaulting police on the weekend.

Once a matter becomes subjudice, the media is barred from reporting anything about the case other than the “bare facts.” It’s generally accepted that the subjudice period begins when someone has been charged by the police and therefore comes before the courts. But because Carey was only arrested and not charged, the media has been free to go way beyond bare facts.

There have been details of Carey’s former convictions – an absolute no no once a matter is subjudice – as well as all sorts of insinuations about his state of mind and criminal connections.

The 7.30 Report isn’t immune either. Last night, presenter Heather Ewart asked the Herald Sun’s Mike Sheahan whether Carey should be seeking some psychiatric help.

That’s tantamount to suggesting he’s mad. The media in general has made allusions to him being violent, s-x crazed, the equivalent of a wife beater and a drug user. Thanks to some cheque book journalism we’ve even seen video tapes that could be tended as evidence in any court case that ensues.

But the especially bizarre thing in the coverage of Carey is that he has actually been charged and is facing legal proceedings. But of course that’s in Miami, well beyond any Australian legal jurisdiction and certainly not within the distribution range of MX – at least not the printed edition. And on top of this, the US cops are free to tell Australian audiences that Carey has “anger management problems”, basically confirming he’s a violent person.

The media would do well to remember that going over the top sometimes proves counter productive. There are plenty of examples in media law of over zealous editors undermining a prosecutor’s case by mouthing off about supposedly guilty people.

There’s nothing a defence lawyer likes more than the opportunity to abort a trial because the media couldn’t refrain from lynching someone in the court of public opinion.

Carey may almost be wishing that he was charged on the weekend. If he had been the coverage since would have been toned down considerably – although with some media outlets there’s no guarantee because some editors routinely bend the rules of subjudice contempt because they reckon that any fine they cop is off-set by all the extra papers they sell by digging up dirt on celebrities.

Peter Fray

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