Underbelly on the inside

Oh, this takes the cake!:

Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu has slammed the screening of crime drama Underbelly to youth prison inmates as hypocritical and inappropriate. The TV drama, currently banned in Victoria, was shown to teenage inmates at the Melbourne Juvenile Justice Centre, News Ltd newspapers reported today. A state government inquiry has been launched into the screening of the graphic show based on Melbourne’s bloody gangland wars. It’s believed a staff member at the prison is suspected of smuggling the pirated DVD into the centre, News Ltd said. “There is a certain degree of hypocrisy here when you’ve got the judiciary saying this can’t be shown, and the government basically sanctioning the showing of it to prisoners,” Mr Baillieu told reporters in Melbourne today.

“I’ve got to say I think it is inappropriate and we need to know how it happened.” Acting Premier and Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the government was taking the allegations seriously. He said the investigation would determine if the DVD had indeed been screened. “People who are in youth detention obviously have to be treated appropriately and the government takes their treatment very seriously and that’s why this is a serious investigation,” he told reporters in Melbourne today. “I expect the inquiry will establish whether or not that occurred and in what circumstances, and if action needs to be taken I expect it will be.” About 15 teenage inmates in the remand section are believed to have watched up to 10 episodes last week. A relative of one of the killers depicted in the show is believed to have been one of them, News Ltd said.

Supreme Court Justice Betty King banned the screening of Underbelly in Victoria in February. The order was initially imposed to protect the trial of gangland killer Ange Goussis over the murder of Lewis Moran. Although Goussis has been convicted, the order stands.

Now, as any (and perhaps only) readers of this blog would know, the last paragraph is wrong. Not only was King’s order quashed by the Court of Appeal, and the Court’s own order was limited to Channel 9 and its affiliates – presumably not including the rogue screw – but the order expired with Evan Goussis’s conviction in May. The impression that an order still exists is due to the intemperate (and potentially illegal) media release of Jeremy Rapke, DPP and official censor:

Mr Rapke said – “I will not hesitate to take contempt of court proceedings against any person or organisation that deliberately publishes ‘Underbelly’ or any part of it“.

Off you go Rapke! Don’t hesitate! A prison officer – you could easily find out his or her name if your wanted to – has published a part – indeed nearly all – of Underbelly. Oh, but what’s the contempt of court here exactly? Is Rapke going to argue that future gangland trials are now going to be prejudiced by the loss to the jury pool of these teenage inmates? The ones who are convicted and get any sort of sentence are ineligible anyway, of course. Of the rest (who must turn 18 first), what chance is there that they’d be both called up and not kicked off a relevant jury anyway, especially if they’re hanging out with the relative of a killer? And, anyway, how can losing 15 potential jurors in a jurisdiction of 4 million people make any difference at all?

This is, of course, the fallacy of Rapke’s approach, even if we stomach the Court of Appeal’s specious claim that watching a dramatisation of the background to the war is somehow a prejudice to future trials, whereas repeated headlines detailing the dramatic and real life escapades of one of the key players in recent weeks, not to mention years of books, newspapers articles and whatnot aren’t. Even if we stomach all that, there’s still no contempt of court that can be committed by individuals who lack a broadcasting licence, as only the latter can reach a non-trivial fraction of the jury pool.

Maybe the prison incident will lead to other charges – not to mention the usual bashing of prisoners’ free speech rights (the ‘why should they get what we can’t’ mob) – but there won’t be a contempt charge. Indeed:

Yesterday, the Office of Public Prosecutions did not respond to questions from the Herald Sun.

Time to change your press release, Rapke?

One thought on “Underbelly on the inside

  1. Pingback: Media get it wrong on Victorian Underbelly ‘ban’ | James5

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