Courier-Mail fined $120,000 for identifying children
QUEENSLAND Newspapers has been fined $120,000 for illegally identifying the Sunshine Coast siblings involved in a court custody battle with their father.
The Courier-Mail publisher pleaded guilty in the Brisbane District Court last week to four charges of publishing an account of proceedings in the Family Court that identified parties and or persons.
The children, who cannot be named, were the subject of a bitter custody battle in 2011 after their mother illegally brought them to Australia.
At the time the Family Court ruled in favour of the father and ordered the siblings be returned to Italy immediately.
Their mother lost an appeal and subsequently hid the children.
The Courier-Mail seized on the opportunity and ran a series of stories which resulted in widespread condemnation of the sibling's father and the legal system.
District Court Judge Terence Martin said on Monday, the Courier-Mail deliberately and blatantly disregarded the law for commercial gain.
He said the Courier-Mail had not shown any form of remorse for their criminal actions which he said was the worst category of offending.
"It seems to me that the newspaper seized upon what it regarded as a sensational story, which would be attractive to readers, and put the story ahead of its legal obligations," he said.
"I accepted the submission it was undertaken for commercial gain."
Judge Martin said the Courier-Mail stories published in May, 2012, were intentionally biased, grossly inaccurate, illegal and designed to garner public sympathy for the mother.
He said as a result of the articles being published the girl's father was widely vilified.
"In this case the offending publication made the parties and their children notorious throughout Australia," he said.
"He, of course, was vilified in the publications."
Judge Martin said journalists were warned several times by a court officer, judge and a legal officer about the ramifications of identifying the family, but still went ahead with the stories.
He singled out the Courier-Mail's Family Law reporter Ainsley Pavey and said her actions in writing the articles were "beyond reproach".
Justice Martin fined the company $30,000 per breach saying the Courier-Mail had shown absolutely no remorse for its actions.
"There has been no expression of remorse in any form at any anytime," he said.
"The company's conduct reflects an absence of any genuine remorse.
"This was persistent, serious offending in deliberate defiance of the law and importantly in complete disregard of the interests of four children."
He ordered the fine be paid within a month.
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This poll ended on 22 March 2015.
Guilty as charged and they should wear it
It wasn't the best but it wasn't all that bad
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There's no way they should be punished for this
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Earlier, Crown Prosecutor Joshua Hanna told the court The Courier-Mail published a series of articles in May, 2012, about the siblings' perceived plight and in the process intentionally broke one of the best known rules of law in the media industry.
He told the court the newspaper ignored several warnings, including one from a judge.
"There were a number of inaccurate reports designed to garner sympathy for the mother and undermine the Family Court," he said.
"The inaccuracies perpetuated in the first article were continued in the second, third and fourth.
"The tone of the articles was to ultimately undermine the integrity of the court."
Mr Hanna said the reporting was extremely biased, incorrect, illegal and showed a blatant disregard for the law.
"The gross misrepresentation of the Family Court proceedings was skewed to favour the mother.
"The misrepresentation of the facts undermined the integrity of the Family Court and a host of government agencies and authorities in the eyes of the public.
"The obvious reason for this criminal offending was for commercial gain . . . to sell newspapers."
Defence barrister Jeffery Hunter said Queensland Newspapers was a good corporate citizen who gave away $80 million worth of free advertising each year to charities.
He said the newspaper hosted and supported a number of events that were widely recognised in the community.
However, he was forced to admit no internal action was imposed on the journalists involved.
Judge Glenn Martin said it was clear the offences were "a blatant and intentional criminal act" before adjourning the matter.
He will deliver judgment on Monday morning.