Belly up!

News today that Underbelly will screen in Victoria after all, courtesy of a Supreme Court order from Justice Peter Vickery.

CHANNEL Nine will waste no time putting crime drama Underbelly to air in Victoria after a court ruling lifted a ban on the series. But residents of the state where the real-life action took place will only get to see the first five episodes after a Supreme Court ruling today. Channel Nine will screen the first two episodes of the crime drama this Sunday night. Episodes three to five will screen on then screen on Tuesday and Sunday nights during the following two weeks. Justice Peter Vickery ruled today edited versions of the first five episodes in the series, based on Melbourne’s gangland war, can air but the sixth must remain banned until a major criminal trial is over. An accused criminal tried to get the series barred for fear it would prejudice their upcoming court case.

We’ll have to wait until the reasons for judgment come out (if they do) to see exactly why this ruling was made (and whether the Charter got a guernsey.)

But, surely, the judgment overturns a couple of fundamentals of the original ban:

  • The oft-stated claim that the docudrama is poison for fairness because it ‘mixes fact and fiction.’ I’ve gotten tired of hearing this furphy, which seems to assume that: (a) the only things jurors are ever allowed to be exposed to are ‘facts’ (when the reality is that jurors are inevitably exposed to disputed evidence from all sides, with their major job being to separate fact and fiction; (b) that jurors are so stupid that they’ll assume everything in a docudrama is true; (c) that a straightforward instruction not to ‘believe everything you see on the box’ won’t cure that. While episodes 1-5 will be edited, I’d be surprised if the editing has cut out all the ‘fiction’. So, Vickery J presumably recognised that a little fiction is no reason to ban a TV show.
  • The Court of Appeal’s unlikely claim that a jury will be prejudiced simply by learning about the ‘background’ to the Gangland Wars. You know, the bit where the Carlton Crew and the Williams Crew fall out? It seems that prospective jurors are allowed to hear all that stuff after all. So, why couldn’t we see those episodes – or at least the first three that Nine wanted to show back in February – before the Goussis trial again?
  • The legitimacy of Rapke’s press release threatening the prosecute anyone who shows any part of Underbelly in Victoria for contempt. So, is Rapke going to prosecute Channel Nine now? Why doesn’t he prosecute Vickery J? Or is he going to concede that his press release went way too far? [EDIT: The Age today explains that he’s had a ‘change of heart’.]

But I guess we shouldn’t count our chickens yet. We’ll have to see whether or not the mysterious unnamed criminal defendant whose trial is coming up appeals Vickery J’s decision.

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