Legal Ethics and the Media: Are the Ethics of Lawyers and Journalists Irretrievably at Odds?

Legal Ethics 15 (1):83-110 (2012)
Abstract
Descriptions of the relationship between lawyers and journalists range from 'uneasy' and 'sometimes prickly' to 'strained and often combatant.' This paper explores the ethical frameworks within which lawyers and journalists work and analyses the differences between the two, especially in the context of court reporting. It begins with a consideration of whether or not journalists are members of a profession, recognising that one marker of a profession is the existence of an ethical code. The codes of ethics of both lawyers and journalists are compared and contrasted. The ethical frameworks are also superimposed over two fundamental but competing principles of justice in a Western democracy: the principle of open justice and the right to a fair trial. The struggle to reconcile these two principles creates tensions between lawyers and journalists. Finally, the paper examines the ethical principles which guide lawyers' interactions with journalists. The author concludes that the fundamental difference between lawyers and journalists lies in the journalist's lack of a client. In lacking a fiduciary duty to a client, the lens through which a journalist views court reporting is never going to match in focus with the view of the lawyer, whose duties to both an individual client and the court itself will inevitably clash with a journalist whose aim is to disseminate information, as quickly as possible, to a faceless public
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