Australian-US media organisation Yahoo7 was found in contempt of court on Friday over an online story which led to a murder trail being aborted, with a judge blaming the website for prioritizing profit above oversight.
Yahoo7 journalist, Krystal Johnson and her company were taken to court last year after a report on a Melbourne murder trial which included information not heard by the jury, resulting in the jury being discharged and the trial ending.
A second trial was held later and a man was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend.
Supreme Court of Victoria Justice John Dixon convicted Yahoo7 – co-owned by US internet company Yahoo and Australia Seven West Media – of contempt of court, and fined the organisation AUS$300,000 (US$230,000).
Dixon told the court he wanted to make it clear to the media “that sub-judice contempt of the type demonstrated in this case is intolerable.”
“Commercial pressures and incentives such as meeting deadlines and ensuring immediacy in current affairs reporting, attracting larger audiences to its website and earning profits appear to be relevant to the systemic failure within Yahoo7,” he said.
He added that the aborted trial wasted the court's time, was a burden on its resources and upset the victim's family, the accused and the jury.
“In view of the kind of high-volume, time-pressured work Yahoo7 expected of its journalists, Ms Johnson's mistake was readily foreseeable,” Dixon noted in further criticism of the outlet in his judgement.
“Time pressures inherent to the media's work must be balanced against the responsibility to ensure that the appropriate checks are in place.”
Johnson was given a two-year good behaviour bond, with Dixon adding: “I accept that she has learnt in a harsh and unforgiving way a lesson that she will never forget.”
The case has highlighted the pressures editors and journalists face amid plunging profits and increased competition for readers and viewers.