Yesterday a Melbourne teenager was charged with creating a public nuisance and producing child pornography. Reuters tells us he “became a controversial media star after a wild party at his parents’ house became a near riot, forcing police to call in a helicopter and the dog squad”. Hands up if you think you know his name.
Now, keep your hands up if you’re completely bloody sure you know his name.
OK, hands down.
Yet again we see how Australia’s laws have failed to adapt to the Internet age.
Everybody and their dog, globally, has been reporting the rise to fame of glamorous Melbourne socialite Corey Worthington Delaney. I’ve written two essays already [1, 2], and this third one probably won’t be the last. My friends at Crikey published The Corey Timeline yesterday (republished by Peter Black too, if the Crikey original is behind their paywall).
Now, under Victorian law, as in many other democracies, the media cannot identify minors charged with criminal offences. Nor can they identify who’s brought before the children’s court. Fair enough. Once upon a time we all agreed that youthful indiscretions shouldn’t mar our reputation for life.
So now we have the ludicrous situation where National Nine News and The Age and everyone else is talking about “a 16-year-old boy” as if we haven’t noticed a flood of media reports about a specific, named 16yo who — in an amazing coincidence — held a wild party on the weekend where the police were called, including a helicopter and the dog squad.
Happens all the time. Could well be someone else.
Even before the Internet this law was flawed. Radio and TV broadcasts were ephemeral (at least until we all got recorders), and newspapers could stop mentioning a name. But that couldn’t prevent you popping down the library to check last week’s edition. And it couldn’t stop people talking about what they already knew.
Today, thanks to blogs, Twitter and Facebook and the rest, even casual gossip is on the public record. Forever. Even if a web page is removed, we can still recover it thanks to Google’s cache and the Internet archive’s Wayback Machine.
Yet those tireless, dedicated soldiers of the mainstream media trudge through the ritual, typing “the youth, who cannot be named for legal reasons” and pixelating photos — even though we can still recognise faces we know.
So what do we do here? Do we ban all media identification of minors? Or just accept that The Truth Is Out There and drop the charade? Maybe we can do the latter and make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of anything we did as minors.
[Note: The pixelated image is for illustration purposes only. I pixelated an image of Corey Worthington Delaney (right) and a friend taken from Channel 7. I have no idea whether he was one of the youths arrested yesterday. How could I possibly know? The police have not said.]