The judge in the murder trial derailed by a Yahoo7 report has described the incident as “yet another occasion in which some members of the media do not seem to properly understand their responsibilities in relation to the publication of material affecting a criminal trial”.

Judge Lex Lasry demanded in yesterday’s ruling that “the author of the article, and whoever it is that is responsible for the publication of this material on the internet last Thursday, be brought to this court to explain to me why this occurred.

“I will then decide what further action, if any, should be taken.”

As Crikey reported yesterday, the offending article was a rip-off of a Herald Sun report on court proceedings. But it went further, detailing a Facebook post purportedly written by the deceased. Lasry said in his ruling:

“In this case, [the media’s] lack of understanding is going to cause this trial to be terminated, with all the associated inconvenience, cost and emotional consequences for both the accused and the family of the deceased woman …”

“Such events happen from time to time. This does not make it any the less serious that it has happened on this occasion.

“I propose to discharge this jury. I am satisfied there is high degree of necessity in this case to do so in order avoid the risk of unfair prejudice to the accused.”

According to the transcript, counsel for the Crown Andrew Tinney described the article as “extraordinary”. Tinney said in the court transcript:

“For what it’s worth, this is going to become more and more common with the contracting news media enterprises. The people who know the rules are not necessarily going to be there anymore and the very idea that someone purporting to write an article about a court proceeding will then put a whole lot of photographs and a whole lot of material that has not found its way in the court proceeding, it’s just quite extraordinary.”

The jury discharge came after three days of evidence, and the trial was expected to finish today.

As of this morning, no date had been set for when Yahoo7 reporter Krystal Johnson, and perhaps her editors, would appear in court.

Digital media insiders told Crikey yesterday that in small digital newsrooms, which quickly churn through journalists, these things are bound to happen. At Yahoo7, editors assign and oversee stories, and then a subeditor goes over copy. The mornings, however, are especially busy, as reporters quickly lift stories form the morning TV shows and papers. The story that caused the jury to be discharged had a time stamp of 8.45am — a busy time in the Yahoo7 newsroom.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey