Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Judge Bars Twitter Updates From London Courtroom During Assange Bail Hearing - NYTimes.com

Judge Bars Twitter Updates From London Courtroom During Assange Bail Hearing

One response to a judge’s decision to ban Twitter updates from court during Julian Assange’s bail hearing in London on Thursday. One response to a judge’s decision to ban Twitter updates from court during Julian Assange’s bail hearing in London on Thursday.

8:11 a.m. | Update: Julian Assange will be released on bail, after an appeal against an earlier ruling in his favor was turned down by a high court judge in London on Thursday, Britain’s Press Association reports.

At the start of a bail hearing for Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, on Thursday in London, a judge barred reporters from using Twitter to file updates from the courtroom during the proceedings. Since updates had been allowed during a previous hearing, several reporters had hoped to use Twitter to post text updates during the hearing, but were forced to sign off by High Court Justice Duncan Ouseley, 60, minutes after the hearing began.

One of those reporters, Esther Addley of the Guardian, left the court to report on the judge’s ruling for the newspaper’s live blog:

“This is not something I normally deal with,” Mr. Justice Ouseley said. “District Judge Riddle [on Tuesday] did permit the use of tweets. That’s to say short text messages, made by use of a Blackberry or a laptop.”

He said tweets from the court would represent a distraction.

“I recognize the calls for debate…. The issue involving Twitter may involve the potential for disruption to the atmosphere of the court, which one might call its dignity.”

Esther added that Assange looks “frazzled”. He is wearing a white shirt with no tie and a dark shirt. He is flanked in the dock by two guards and behind ornate bars, she said.

Several reporters, including my colleague Ravi Somaiya, Alexi Mostrous, a Times of London correspondent, Jim Sciutto of ABC News and Vikram Dodd and Esther Addley of the Guardian had been poised to post text updates on the proceedings from the courtroom using Twitter.

After the ruling, Heather Brooke, a freedom of information campaigner and journalist who had posted updates to Twitter from court during Mr. Assange’s previous bail hearing, wrote on the social network:

The law is an ass. In open court what difference is typing from pen & paper. Lawyers have laptops & blackberries. Why not public? …

What judges object to is an accurate record of proceedings being made public. It reveals fallibility of the system which is BAD.

We need to move beyond this idealism of ‘perfect justice’ and see how it’s really done. Warts and all.

It’s about who controls the record of what happened. At the moment it’s judges. They approve transcripts.

Mr. Assange is back in court because lawyers for Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service are seeking to have an earlier decision, granting him release on bail, overturned.

The WikiLeaks founder is fighting extradition to Sweden, where a prosecutor wants him to respond to sex crimes allegations. Swedish authorities have hinted that Mr. Assange could, ultimately, be sent to the United States, where Justice Department lawyers are trying to build a case against him for his part in the distribution of leaked government documents.

As Twitter users, and journalists, deal with a sudden enforced news blackout on Mr. Assange’s legal status, here is an interview his mother, Christine Assange, gave to an Australian television station after a recent visit to see him in London’s Wandsworth Prison, courtesy of the Guardian.


An Australian television interview with Julian Assange’s mother, Christine, after she visited her son in prison in London, posted on the Guardian’s Web site.

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