Australia's suppression order and why we can't report on the country's biggest story


However, in this case, the word has got out widely online and through social media.

Google searches for the person's name surged on Wednesday, particularly in Victoria. Two of the top three search results on the suppressed name showed websites that were reporting the charges, the verdict and the identity of the person in full.

One of the websites was blocked from viewing by Australian residents, but its content was republished on a number of other sites.

On Wednesday afternoon, the person's name was the subject of thousands of tweets. The tweets both named the individual and the charges and posted links to online sites where the information was available.

A number of readers contacted us asking why we were not reporting this major issue in the public interest. We, like all media organisations, are required by law to adhere to suppression orders and breaching such a suppression order is taken very seriously by the court, and could lead to charges of contempt of court.

Victoria uses more suppression orders than any other jurisdiction in Australia, with the state accounting for more than half of such orders nationally.

The wide dissemination of the suppressed information online, however, highlights the challenges of the suppression regime in some high-profile cases of public interest.

A year-long review of Victoria's 2013 Open Courts Act by retired judge Frank Vincent called into question the function and efficacy of suppression orders in an internet age.

Even if major media organisations were gagged, nothing could prevent a case from being canvassed on social media, blogs and myriad other channels, he said.

A view to the contrary is “most likely to represent wishful thinking than reality'', Justice Vincent found, and a “real world” approach is required.

Despite this, and the principles of transparent justice enshrined in the Open Courts Act, Victorian judges were “troublingly” issuing as many suppression orders as they ever were.

The Vincent report made 18 recommendations, none of which has been implemented by the state government.

Patrick O'Neil

Patrick O'Neil is The Age's PM news editor

Michael Bachelard

Michael Bachelard is Fairfax's foreign editor and the investigations editor at The Age. He has worked in Canberra, Melbourne and Jakarta as Indonesia correspondent. He has written two books and won multiple awards for journalism, including the Gold Walkley in 2017.