Baby P, Facebook and contempt of court

Yesterday, while looking for a link for a story I came across a Facebook group identifying Baby P.

There’s been a lot of between-hack speculation about why he and his parents can’t be named – after all, the social workers and the doctors have all been named and shamed, so why not the people who really did the damage? As it turns out there are valid legal reasons – but does it matter?  I found his name completely by accident.

Once you’ve got his name it’s but a short step to his mum’s name, her boyfriend’s and even the house number and the street they live in.

This illustrates two things: first the futility of newspapers believing we’re the sacred keepers of news no-one knows about until we tell them. There are thousands of people who have this knowledge and thousands more who are just one facebook friend away from finding out. In this kind of world, how can we pretend that news itself is what we sell?

Second, how can the courts police this? Publishing Baby P’s name is technically contempt of court, punishable with a prison sentence. But everyone who joins one of those Facebook groups is ‘publishing’ his name to all their Facebook friends. Are they all in contempt?

And what about the newspapers? Thanks to Google caching, once you know the names it’s a simple search to bring up all the stories published before the reporting restrictions were imposed, even though they’ve been removed from the newspapers’ websites. Who’s punishable there?

Is it possible to enforce reporting restrictions in these circumstances? With everyone so connected to everyone else, isn’t it im possible to put up barriers to information? and if so where does that leave us when there really are valid reasons for witholding the identities of those in court?

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