Earlier this month, former BBC presenter Alex Belfield was jailed for stalking and harassment. His victims included former colleagues at the corporation, including Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine. One striking aspect of the case was that the judge gave him permission to post social media updates about his own trial.
“Keep in mind that my audience on YouTube is larger than GB News, Sky News and Talk TV combined.”
This is what Belfield said on his YouTube channel The Voice of Reason, in a video titled “The BBC and the police witch hunt.” And while the broadcasters in question might dismiss his ratings claims as exaggeration, there’s no doubt that he reached a lot of people.
On that post alone, Belfield, from Nottingham, attracted more than 183,000 views, 11,000 likes and nearly 2,000 comments.
The most surprising aspect of the video was that, even as Belfield was posting it, he was on trial accused of harassing eight people, including some of his former BBC colleagues.
The court heard that the 42-year-old had repeatedly exposed them to hate as a result of his social media activity.
Every day, Belfield, who denied the charges, appeared before the judge and jury, then filmed himself outside court or at home reporting on the progress of the case.
He would then upload his reports to the same social media channels that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said he had continually used to harass his victims.
Hey what convicted of four counts of stalking and cleared of four others.
Belfield’s YouTube channel has more than 350,000 subscribers. Her court reports regularly attracted thousands of comments and more than 100,000 views.
“It was absolutely bizarre,” said Jeremy Vine, one of the BBC stars Belfield was found guilty of attacking.
“Basically, he was reporting on his own case – I’ve never heard of that happening before.
“You were watching your stalker read your evidence online.”
Vine believes that many of the videos that led to Belfield’s prosecution are still in circulation.
The stalker posted an update titled “Back Soon” on the day of his sentencing, September 16.
“You tell your followers to copy and share your content; videos appear everywhere,” said Vine.
“Social media companies have to be held accountable for this bile.
“If you have someone using YouTube as a hate factory, you need to be more receptive to complaints.”
Having a defendant report on his own trial was, according to media lawyer Jonathan Coad, unprecedented.
“It’s one of those weird seismic shifts of the 21st century,” he said.
“When I started practicing law 30 years ago, the power of the individual to impose his opinion on a large number of people was restricted to a very small number of people.
“Then, of course, we started having social media. I have clients with six or seven figure followings who can communicate, at the touch of a button, with more people than a national newspaper can.”
Mr. Coad believes that the judge in the case, Mr. Justice Saini, would have had no choice but to grant Belfield permission to submit his briefs, which totaled more than 30 updates and spanned the entire four weeks of the trial.
“You have a situation where we have a strong emphasis in our courts on open justice,” he said.
“The judge will think ‘I can’t tell you that you can’t report on the hearings because that would be a flagrant contradiction of the whole essence of open justice.’
“How can you conceptually separate the tweeting reporters from the court? what is allowed And tell a defendant that he can’t comment on the entire trial from his YouTube channel?
Coad said he could foresee a situation where other defendants would follow Belfield’s example, which could cause victims great anguish down the road.
“We have opted for very little regulation in terms of media coverage of court cases, and that extends to Fleet Street,” he said.
“It’s likely to happen again. This will put ideas in people’s heads: If someone thinks ‘I’m in court for four weeks, I might as well start a YouTube channel and make some money,’ it’s a way to make some money.” of notoriety.”
What are the rules around court reporting?
According to the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO) it is a fundamental principle of open justice that judicial proceedings can be reported by the media in an open and transparent manner. Journalists have an obligation to ensure that the reporting of what was heard in court is accurate and not misleading.
Reports of legal proceedings must be fair and accurate, and any reporting restrictions or legal prohibitions on reporting must be followed.
Any information from other sources must be clearly distinguished in an article from that heard in court.
Taking contemporaneous notes during court proceedings is an important way of showing that care has been taken with the accuracy of any subsequent court reports.
Some courts require journalists to provide evidence of media accreditation in order to gain access to proceedings.
The BBC understands that the prosecution did not object to Belfield reporting on the case.
Following his conviction, the judge warned him to be “very careful with…online communications.”
For another legal expert, the case was more of an isolated case, in which Belfield’s credentials as a journalist were key in allowing him to report on the trial.
“Belfield’s situation is quite unique in that he is a reporter who is also a defendant in the case,” said Daniel J ShenSmith, a practicing attorney for Lichfield.
“It is presumed that the press and legal commentators are not jeopardizing the course of justice and that if things are actually reported, that shouldn’t be a problem.
“There can be no open justice if none of that is reported.”
ShenSmith, who runs a YouTube channel like Blackbelt Barrister that aims to demystify the law for the public, said he didn’t think the law would change as a result of the case.
“It’s an interesting question as to where it goes next and how it’s managed and policed, but the ultimate discretion rests with the judge,” he said.
“If there was a case where someone had made serious threats of harm and then wanted to report on the proceedings, I think the judge would probably say no.
“Open justice is a good balance and I think it will take time for Parliament to interfere with the rules around it.
“It could be seen as an attack on the justice system. It’s a difficult area.”
Since Belfield’s conviction, YouTube continues to host his channel.
Live videos of him making nasty comments about the victims of his bullying follow.
According to YouTube, he has been suspended from monetizing his channel since February for violating its policy on harassment.
“If we see a creator’s off-platform behavior harming our users, community, employees, or ecosystem, we take action to protect the community,” a spokesperson said.