Many people now obtain their news from the internet. This method of communication has allowed a remarkable explosion of free speech, of providers of information (usually providing content which can be obtained for free) and a muliplicity of choice in what one reads. It is to be applauded.
That's not how the authorities feel in some parts of this country, it seems. Simon Perry of VentnorBlog, a well-established news blog on the Isle of Wight, was thrown out of a coroner’s court on Tuesday (you can read his account here).
Name and shame time: acting on behalf of the Coroner, John Matthews, Coroner officer Richard Leedham said that he did not wish him to be in the court – as a journalist or as a member of the public.
But the Isle of Wight County Press was allowed to stay.
Leedham told Journalism.co.uk that the court "would not be making a comment, but that a statement had been made by the coroner after VentnorBlog had left the room." Well, how helpful! What was it?!
The case concerns the death of a woman on the Island in September 2008; the coroner court case has been postponed twice. VB wrote that it had been “led to believe that circumstances surrounding her death may be of public interest”.
VB apparently gathers that the exclusion was due to their coverage of a past case, which the court – whilst taking no formal action at all – had not liked. Well, so what? An adverse take by a newspaper to an Old Bailey decision doesn't see that title excluded from the Central Criminal Court – why should a blog be treated differently?
As it happens, Perry is a member of the National Union of Journalists, but I don't think that that matters. Absent particular, specific, exceptional circumstances, the principle is the same, for journalists or the public – justice should not only be done, it should be seen to be done. We have open justice in this country.
The daughter of the woman concerned said she was glad the VB was ejected, and wished that no media were able to watch the case. I sympathise with her for her loss and on an emotional level understand her point of view but I'm afraid that objectively her opinions don't matter one bit. Many people would rather news providers were excluded from covering things of public interest – it would be a disaster for open, civil society if that desire held any weight.
As one of VB’s followers said, “Ventnor blog seems our one source of reliable info on the Island.” Perhaps that's what is disliked…
access to a coroner’s inquest is a basic and important right for the public and press. Without it there are no checks on people’s deaths. As no notes are published from the inquest, the only way that it can be understood and reported is by people / press attending.
I have worked in the court system for some time and I know how important it is for people to have access to proceedings, to find out what is going on in our justice system. On the evidence available it's my view that this decision is a disgrace and I hope that VB does not let the matter lie. Cue the NUJ, perhaps..?
By Alex Deane