Date of this Version


Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Details

Pearson, M. (2008) Scandalising media freedom: resurrection of an ancient contempt. Pacific Journalism Review, Vol. 14 (1) April 2008, pp. 64-78, ISSN: 1023-9499.

For further information please visit Pacific Journalism Review.

This paper was also presented to the Journalism Education Association of New Zealand (JEANZ) 2007annual conference, Wellington, NZ, December 10-11.

Pre-print version

2007 HERDC submission

Copyright © Mark Pearson, 2008.


The ancient charge of “scandalising the court” (publications aiming at lowering the authority of the court) has had a resurgence in Australia over the past decade, at the very time judges and magistrates have developed an inclination to sue for defamation. The combined effect is to send a warning to media organisations to take care when criticising judicial officers or the judicial process, particularly if that involves implying some improper motive on the part of a judge or magistrate. In New Zealand there have been some isolated but significant threats and cases, particularly in the volatile area of family law. This paper reviews some recent Australian and New Zealand cases where a charge of scandalising the court has been either threatened or enforced and considers the implications for freedom of media expression in a new era of anti-terrorism when important questions are being asked about the fairness of justice processes.



This document has been peer reviewed.


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