Court reporting and contempt of court

Doreen Weisenhaus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


As in other areas of law covered in this book, a constant balancing act exists between freedom of the press and individual interests. The right to a fair trial versus the right of the press to cover a trial is one of the most important and enduring conflicts. In courtrooms across Hong Kong, as the media began devoting more coverage to the courts, their clashes with the judicial system were inevitable. These have resulted in more calls for the media to resist the sensationalizing of court coverage and for the courts to be more open.if it appears to a court that it is necessary to do so in the interests of justice or public order or security, the court may order that the whole of the proceedings before it in respect of any offence or, having regard to the reason of the making such order, any appropriate part of such proceedings shall take place in a closed court. Coverage of courts in Hong Kong is a fairly recent phenomenon. Until the early 1990s, the courts were not seen as a major source of news stories and were covered mostly by the two local English-language newspapers. But by the mid to late 1990s, when competition in the Chinese press heated up after the debut of the Apple Daily newspaper, other Hong Kong media discovered what media all over the world have - That trials, especially criminal ones, frequently have many of the elements of great storytelling: scandal, conflict, murder, sex, victims, and (alleged until proven guilty) villains. Now several dozen reporters regularly cover court cases throughout Hong Kong and many newspapers have a page or regular feature devoted to court coverage. Despite their enthusiasm for court coverage, the media here recognize the difficulties of reporting on legal proceedings. As in many areas of law, Hong Kong inherited the UK's restrictive approach to coverage of court cases. Reporters face many prohibitions on the kinds of information they can report about pending cases, especially about criminal cases on trial or about to go on trial. When journalists run afoul of the restrictions, they can face contempt of court charges. While contempt of court charges are not an everyday occurrence for the media in Hong Kong, they have happened often enough in recent years to be a threat. Journalists and media found in contempt have faced thousands of dollars in fines and, in one extreme case, prison time. One positive development for the press in the coverage of court cases has been an increase in court transparency. In 2005, the Hong Kong Judiciary implemented a major policy change when it opened some court proceedings to journalists and the public that previously had been closed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHong Kong Media Law
Subtitle of host publicationA Guide for Journalists and Media Professionals
PublisherHong Kong University Press, HKU
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9789622098077
StatePublished - Dec 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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