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March 6, 2012

How to tweet safely from court

By andrew

For  this month’s edition of Press Gazette magazine media law consultant Cleland Thom wrote a piece on the potential dangers of tweeting from court. It followed the incident where a Guardian reporter was referred to the Attorney General for tweeting the name of a juror and details of legal argument that took place in the absence of the jury.

This morning we published excerpts of that feature – which resulted in a strong response on Twitter.

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Sky’s digital news editor Neal Mann, aka @field Producer, was in first, tweeting:

Not exactly a balanced piece that.

Perhaps so, but in fairness, as this was a story adapted from a feature that was never really the intention – as pointed out by Jim Reed, a reporter working for BBC Radio’s The World Tonight, who tweeted:

I thought that court reporting piece was interesting perspective for what it’s worth. Wasn’t pretending to cover every angle.

Channel 5 News Correspondent Peter Lane added:

Only real danger is missing juicy quotes or losing track of evidence because you are too busy tweeting.

In response, Press Gazette said:

Missing quotes and evidence while tweeting are quite big dangers though aren’t they?

Sky News journalist Harriet Tolputt later pointed out:

Twitter in court is not for the inexperienced but with the exception of cameras the best way for open justice.

We’re looking to do a follow up on today’s article – if you’d like to give a response longer than 140 characters then you can email us at

In the meantime, hopefully you’ll find this useful.

How to tweet safely from court (courtesy of Cleland Thom):

  • Use a handheld, mobile device and set it to silent.
  • Give a balanced report. With not guilty pleas, mention the ‘denial’, and ‘case continues’, every day, and don’t present allegations as facts.
  • Your tweets should be accurate – the way the jury heard it. Take care with swapping long words for shorter ones – especially with the charges.
  • Don’t comment on evidence, or on witnesses’ performance, or how you think the case is going.
  • Don’t approach jurors – even after the verdict.
  • Don’t tweet: anything said in the jury’s absence; links to pre-trial stories about the case; mixed pleas; or details of future cases involving the defendant.
  • Check who’s anonymous: jurors – definitely; sex offence victims – definitely; under-18s – probably; witnesses – possibly.
  • This tip has come in from ITV West & Westcountry reporter Richard Payne:I tweeted throughout the Jo Yeates murder trial in Bristol last year. I’d recommend an ipad, not a mobile, as far quicker and easier. Judges seem to be across the twitter development and happy to allow but warn journos of the dangers i.e. usual reporting restrictions apply. One rogue tweeter gave away info that could have threatened the trial itself. He was given a slap on the wrist by the Attorney General. You’ve got to be very careful. There’s a race amongst some ‘to be first’, but better to be second and accurate than first and libellous!”

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