Sunday, March 25, 2007

Why we didn't see crucial videotaped evidence

Did you observe something odd in last week’s media coverage of the Nelson Hart trial?

Did you notice that there was an abundance of videotaped evidence presented, mainly from the early police interrogations of Hart? If so, then you may have noticed that the most climactic and important videotape – hidden camera footage of Hart’s re-enactment of the alleged crime – was not on TV at all. Instead, we had reporters describing what was on the tape.

I noticed. And made some calls to ask why. Turns out I was onto something.

There is a court order in place, preventing media from revealing details that could identify the undercover police officers involved in the sting operation. Last week, CBC Here & Now aired some videotape that, in the opinion of the RCMP, came close to violating the court order. The RCMP were not happy. As well, the RCMP weren’t pleased with some descriptive terms that appeared in a Telegram story.

The result? No more videotaped evidence for the media. Which is why you heard about – but didn’t see – that dramatic footage of Nelson Hart on the wharf in Gander Lake.

I placed a call to the regional director for CBC Newfoundland, asking if they felt aggrieved by this, but did not receive a reply prior to post time.

However, Russell Wangersky, Managing Editor of The Telegram, confirmed that the paper had received a warning from the RCMP lawyer around the same time. “They told us we were skirting close to contempt,” he said. “After dealing with our lawyers we felt we were on safe ground with the material and nothing has happened since.”

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