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The recent Media & the Law Conference explored timely topics that impact journalists and the courts

Posted by Jane Doucet on May 14, 2018 in News
Professor Rob Currie presents on the Justice in the Digital Age panel (Photo: Jane Doucet)
Professor Rob Currie presents on the Justice in the Digital Age panel (Photo: Jane Doucet)

On May 11 and 12, journalists, judges, students, and justice system professionals gathered at Pier 21 in Halifax to take part in the conference Media & the Law: Working Together to Improve Access & Public Trust, which was hosted by The Courts of Nova Scotia. The Schulich School of Law was pleased to sponsor and support this event. 

The Honourable J. Michael MacDonald (LLB '78), Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, delivered the opening remarks. On the first day, the Honourable Mary T. Moreau, Chief Justice of Alberta Court of Queen's Bench, gave the luncheon keynote on the importance of open justice and the need for a free press and an independent judiciary to work together to maintain public trust in the Canadian legal system.

Panels of experts tackled such topics as the roles and responsibilities in the criminal justice system, who journalists are and what they do, justice in the digital age, the public's right to know and the media's right to ask, and the unique ethical obligations associated with covering sexual assault trials.

The dinner keynote address was given by The Honourable Judge Kevin S. Burke, Fourth Judicial District, State of Minnesota. He talked about the increasing attacks on judicial indpendence and other challenges facing judges around the world. The next morning, activist and freelance journalist Desmond Cole discussed the myths and stereotypes that are often perpetuated in media coverage of diverse communities and the impact they can have on public trust in the justice system. The remaining two panels examined sexual assault trials.

Working together to break down barriers

The morning of May 11, Lisa Taylor (LLB '01, LLM '10), Assistant Professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism, presented on the panel Anatomy of a Journalist: Who We Are & What We Do. "The courts aren't helping when they withhold information from journalists," she said. "No story has been made better by a paucity of information. Give journalists more information. Because once reputable journalists stop coverage, often someone else will step in who is not that skilled." 

Here are more notable quotes from the Anatomy of a Journalist panel:

"Journalists are working in far more challenging times than I did in my early career, when I only had to file stories on one platform. They wear many hats now." — Lisa Taylor

"Journalists have increased duties because of shrinking newsrooms and budgets. The court system is becoming less and less accessible. It's important that journalists and the courts work together to break down barriers." — Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press

"For court reporters, there are pressures on all sides to get the story right. I've been sworn at, intimidated and subtly threatened by families of the accused and victim when they didn't like what I had written." — Sherri Borden Colley, CBC News Nova Scotia

"There's always a bias in coverage because we're human. It's not our job to be objective. Yes, we need to be fair and accurate, but our job is to be adversarial and get in government's face." — Tim Bousquet, Halifax Examiner

That afternoon, Professor Rob Currie was on the panel Keeping Up with the Times: Justice in the Digital Age. "Social media can be a tool of crime when it's used for cyberbullying," he said. "People are being threatened and harassed. There are lots of ways that social media impacts the law and its processes. Our use of social media can make court cases go haywire."

Currie had the audience in stitches recapping real-life examples of criminals who got caught thanks to their social media posts. He explained that jurors who "friend" witnesses or post on Facebook while sequestered can be slapped with a contempt of court charge.

Kudos to everyone who took part in this successful event!