Saturday, January 10, 2009

'Notorious [Irish] sex killer' 1; free speech 0

An Irish court has banned a magazine from printing pictures of a "notorious sex killer[]," concluding that "the photographs could disrupt [convicted murderer] Ken Callaghan's private life and increase the risk of him harming the public." Callaghan, sentenced to "life" for a 1987 murder, has recently been released into the Irish version of a halfway house. Reports the Guardian:

The judge, Justice Stephens, did not find that the publication of an unpixelated photograph would lead to a "real and immediate risk" to the life of Callaghan.

However, he said that background articles published by the newspaper had "lacked any balance" as to the supervision by authorities of Callaghan in the community.

He also said that the "hostility engendered by the tone and content of those articles" would lead to "disruption to his home, his private life and his family connections through acts of violence, if his precise whereabouts were made known through the publication of such photographs".

Stephens assessed the "balancing exercise" required to judge the right to a newspaper group's freedom of expression and Callaghan's right to respect for his private and family life and his home.

He found that, based on evidence presented, that Callaghan posed a "low to medium risk" of reoffending without the publication of photographs and that there was "proper" supervision by authorities.

The judge also explained that his ruling was "a proportionate response and necessary in a democratic society."

Far be it from me to tell the Irish how to run their affairs, but the notion that a prior restraint on publishing photographs -- including those taken in public spaces like "a cafe and shopping centre" -- is "necessary in a democratic society" is belied by the experience in this democratic society, where such a non-publication order would certainly fall to a First Amendment challenge and where the right to report on long-ago-convicted criminals is generally secure. And we seem to be getting along just fine.

(h/t Media Law Prof Blog)

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