Steven Price

My book

Media Minefield


Guide to NZ Media Law

Official Information Act

Official Information Act


Bill of Rights Act

Media law resources

Feeds (RSS)


« | Main | »

Fact Suppression

By Steven | November 29, 2009

Which is worse: our name suppression laws, or the media’s coverage of them?

Today, the Sunday Star-Times leads with a story headlined “Identity of high profile drug accused kept secret”.

The story is about a familiar one: public figure gets name suppression; cue outrage.

Never mind that this particular defendant’s name was not suppressed between her arrest in April and last week. It could have been reported on any time. If it’s such significant information, perhaps we should be asking questions about the quality of our media. Maybe the headline should have been “Media miss high-profile drug accused story for 7 months”.

And never mind that the name suppression is plainly an interim one, put in place so that a formal application can be made next month.

Never mind that the judge seems to have indicated that the application’s prospects look slim.

(And, incidentally, never mind that the story seems to breach name suppression laws by providing identifying details of the defendant. How many high-profile NZ businesswomen are there whose ex-husband died of terminal cancer this year?)

To be fair, the story contains the information to enable me to make all these points. So does it really justify a front-page lead attacking name suppression laws?

Then there’s this effort, from yesterday’s Weekend Herald: “Government blocks naming of sex act star” (changed online now to the slightly more accurate “Crown blocks naming of sex act star”)

Wow. Really? The government could have allowed the defendant to be named, but prevented it? No. The Solicitor-General merely decided not to appeal.

The subhead says “Crown lawyer fails in attempt to overturn prominent musician’s suppression order”. That’s weird. So there was an appeal? Nope. The story is even equivocal on whether a Crown lawyer recommended an appeal. It eventually says “a senior Crown prosecutor looked into appealing” the order, but was “blocked” by the Solicitor-General.

I’m not sure what exactly happened, but we seem to have strayed a good distance from the headline. (I should point out that that’s largely the fault of the headline-writer not the journo).

The story goes on to claim that “breaching a suppression order is contempt of court”. Wrong. In extreme circumstances it may be, but not usually. (And that error is probably the journalist’s fault, though you would have hoped that the sub would have known some basic contempt law).

Both stories refer to the Law Commission’s recent report on name suppression. The Herald says that the Law Commission “wants internet service providers or content hosts to be subject to a ‘notice and takedown’ order requiring them to immediately remove or block access to material that breaches a court suppression order.” Close, but wrong again. (Did the reporter read the report? It mentions that a “notice-and-takedown procedure” was “one suggestion”, but then recommends something that’s actually broader: a requirement for removal or blocking when the ISP or host “becomes aware” of a suppression order. That doesn’t require a “notice and takedown order”, whatever that might be. And I’m with Ursula Cheer in reading this as not aimed at requiring ISPs to filter anything, as opposed to requiring their customers to take stuff down.)

The best bit is where the story says “even Prime Minister John Key admitted he knew [the entertainer’s] identity.”  Can it really be surprising that the person with access to the entire information gathering apparatus of the state and the gossip network of the country’s leading political party knew a piece of information that’s relatively easily discoverable on the internet? But perhaps the operative word in that sentence is “admitted” (though it’s no offence to know the name, and “admitting” that he didn’t know the name would make him look like prize doofus).

It’s hard to escape two impressions:

1. The media don’t really understand how the laws of name suppression and contempt work; and

2. They routinely beat up name suppression stories to paint the suppressions as unjustified.

If they were simply reporting the issue, you’d think that they may have mentioned that the Law Commission found that suppression orders are imposed in about 1 percent of criminal cases. And that not all of them involve suppresson of names (sometimes, it’s just evidence that’s suppressed). And that it includes suppressions imposed automatically to protect sex victims and child witnesses. And that it includes interim orders that lapse by trial time. (In fact, that’s probably the vast bulk of them – ie they’re not permanent suppression orders. Only about 700 a year are permanent). The Commission conveniently put that information in Chapter 1 of its report.

What’s more, instead of playing up the futility of such suppression orders when “everyone knows” who it is, the media might have asked some people, you know, whether they know who it is.  When I ask my classes (clued up media and privacy law students) usually, most of them don’t know. That’s not because they couldn’t find out (most of them can find out quite readily if they want) – it’s because they haven’t bothered. The reality is that even when journalists think that “everyone knows” because everyone they know knows, actually lots of people don’t know. I imagine if you’re someone with a name suppression order you could be justified in thinking that there’s a difference between lots of people knowing, and having it appear on the front page of the paper.

Of course, we’re only talking about celebrities here. Of the roughly 700 name suppressions issued last year, how many suppressed identities could you name? So…. still think that the internet is rendering suppression orders pointless? Only for the handful of public figures who apply for them, surely. Then aren’t you sick of the perennial stories that breathlessly ask whether technology has rendered name suppression futile?

I should add that I’m inclined to think that permanent name suppression should almost never be given after someone’s been convicted, so I’ve got serious doubts about whether it’s appropriate in either of these cases. That also happens to be the law, and the way it’s usually applied. Of course, final suppression hasn’t been given for the businesswoman. It was for the entertainer, but there’s at least a plausible case that this was justified, though not one that I’d agree with.

Hint to those anti-suppression types looking for a real angle on the Law Commission report: check out the recommendation that name suppression should be allowed at first instance to anyone who can make an arguable case. This is happening in some courts already, and has long struck me as inconsistent with Court of Appeal authority. It’s probably a necessary concession to busy list court judges. It still requires the defendant to stump up with some evidence and good arguments on second appearance, or the suppression will lapse. But it does considerably widen the initial reach of our suppression laws.

Topics: Contempt of Court, Media ethics, Name suppression, Suppression orders | 35 Comments »

35 Responses to “Fact Suppression”

  1. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    November 30th, 2009 at 8:29 am

    How many high-profile NZ businesswomen are there whose ex-husband died of terminal cancer this year?

    You know, I hadn’t heard that 🙂

  2. uberVU - social comments Says:
    November 30th, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by saniac: “They routinely beat up name suppression stories to paint the suppressions as unjustified.” http://www.medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323

  3. Twitted by dubdotdash Says:
    November 30th, 2009 at 9:49 am

    […] This post was Twitted by dubdotdash […]

  4. 8 Says:
    December 2nd, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Thanks for publishing this Steven! I’ve become increasingly frustrated with media coverage of both recent name suppression cases and especially the Law Commission Report.

    While I appreciate their focus will naturally surround ‘celebrity name suppression’, I wish some discussion would address the topic of how suppression should be available in this country for everyone (ie, including celebrities). Fixing up the framework for suppression (ie, what should replace s140 of the CJA) may go some way towards solving the perceived unfairness in some minds of the availability of celebrity name suppression, or at the very least help educate both the media and public as to when the court will use its discretion to grant name suppression. While I’d do things slightly differently to the LC’s final recommendations, their Report (especially when read with the preliminary Issues Paper) should be commended as having addressed the topic very well.

    As an aside, there was an interesting segment on name suppression featured on Media 7 last week (see TVNZ website, series 3: ep 19). Funnily enough, while the journalist featured there admits he has “looked at the report” he does not go as far as saying he has actually read it… go figure.

  5. Whale(b)oil Slater hooked? « Ethical Martini Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    […] If they were simply reporting the issue, you’d think that they may have mentioned that the Law Commission found that suppression orders are imposed in about 1 percent of criminal cases. And that not all of them involve suppression of names (sometimes, it’s just evidence that’s suppressed). And that it includes suppressions imposed automatically to protect sex victims and child witnesses. And that it includes interim orders that lapse by trial time. (In fact, that’s probably the vast bulk of them – ie they’re not permanent suppression orders. Only about 700 a year are permanent). The Commission conveniently put that information in Chapter 1 of its report. [Fact Suppression…MLJ] […]

  6. Revenge, name suppression and celebrity justice « Ethical Martini Says:
    January 7th, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    […] My real purpose here is to shed some light on the Whaleoil situation from a slightly different perspective and I was prompted to do this by comments in a recent post by the legal academic Steven Price in which he poses a very good question: Which is worse: our name suppression laws, or the media’s coverage of them? [Fact Suppression] […]

  7. DMPK Says:
    October 2nd, 2017 at 11:14 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More on|Read More|Find More Infos here|Here you can find 44586 more Infos|Informations to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  8. Wedding event managers in Hyderabad Says:
    October 9th, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More here|Read More|Read More Infos here|There you will find 41372 more Infos|Infos to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  9. make money with a iphone Says:
    November 25th, 2017 at 8:17 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More here|Read More|Find More Infos here|There you can find 56124 additional Infos|Infos on that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  10. learn this here now Says:
    November 25th, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More on|Read More|Find More Infos here|Here you will find 37176 additional Infos|Infos to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  11. dahana pt persero gaji Says:
    December 8th, 2017 at 8:15 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More here|Read More|Read More Informations here|There you can find 16369 more Informations|Informations to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  12. coehuman Aws Alkhazraji Says:
    December 8th, 2017 at 10:00 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More here|Read More|Read More Informations here|There you can find 23922 more Informations|Infos to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  13. Aws alkhazraji Says:
    December 8th, 2017 at 10:39 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More on|Read More|Read More Informations here|Here you can find 18831 more Informations|Infos to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  14. loker 2018 Says:
    December 31st, 2017 at 4:25 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More on|Find More|Read More Informations here|There you will find 78176 additional Informations|Informations on that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  15. GVK BIO pvt ltd Says:
    December 31st, 2017 at 6:07 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More here|Read More|Find More Informations here|Here you can find 43630 additional Informations|Informations to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  16. diyala university college of engineering Says:
    January 9th, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More here|Find More|Find More Infos here|Here you can find 89551 additional Infos|Infos on that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  17. realtor leads Says:
    January 10th, 2018 at 10:52 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More on|Read More|Find More Infos here|Here you can find 36874 more Infos|Informations to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  18. real estate agent Says:
    January 10th, 2018 at 11:15 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More on|Find More|Read More Infos here|There you can find 14774 more Infos|Infos to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  19. how to find a real estate agent Says:
    January 10th, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More on|Read More|Find More Informations here|There you can find 52809 additional Informations|Infos on that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  20. warehouse for sale doral Says:
    January 15th, 2018 at 10:31 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More here|Find More|Find More Infos here|There you can find 97627 additional Infos|Infos on that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  21. Hyderabad Event management Company Says:
    February 1st, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More on|Find More|Read More Informations here|Here you can find 19660 more Informations|Informations to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  22. Mister Checkout Distributors Says:
    February 15th, 2018 at 11:24 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More here|Find More|Read More Informations here|Here you can find 55308 additional Informations|Infos on that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  23. 먹튀신고 Says:
    February 20th, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More on|Find More|Read More Infos here|Here you can find 24959 more Infos|Infos to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  24. CPNS 2018 Kota Tegal Says:
    February 28th, 2018 at 12:44 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More on|Read More|Find More Informations here|There you can find 92227 more Informations|Informations on that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  25. visit the up coming document Says:
    March 3rd, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More on|Find More|Find More Infos here|Here you can find 77206 more Infos|Informations on that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  26. contrato informática Says:
    March 8th, 2018 at 3:32 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More here|Find More|Read More Infos here|Here you can find 44869 additional Infos|Informations to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  27. read the article Says:
    April 9th, 2018 at 9:20 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More on|Find More|Find More Informations here|There you can find 31983 more Informations|Infos to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  28. Brand Reputation Online Services Says:
    April 9th, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More here|Read More|Find More Informations here|There you can find 51023 additional Informations|Informations on that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  29. Recipes Says:
    May 1st, 2018 at 4:21 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More here|Find More|Find More Infos here|Here you can find 44329 more Infos|Informations to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  30. interview Says:
    May 13th, 2018 at 12:03 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More here|Read More|Read More Informations here|There you will find 69138 more Informations|Infos on that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  31. drug metabolism Says:
    May 16th, 2018 at 12:17 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More here|Find More|Read More Infos here|Here you can find 15322 additional Infos|Informations to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  32. MDR1 substrate assesment in Caco-2 Says:
    May 16th, 2018 at 2:02 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More on|Find More|Find More Informations here|There you can find 57153 additional Informations|Infos on that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  33. PK Studies in Mice Says:
    May 16th, 2018 at 2:26 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More here|Find More|Find More Infos here|Here you will find 28979 more Infos|Infos to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  34. forex signals Says:
    May 20th, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    … [Trackback]

    […] Read More on|Read More|Read More Informations here|There you can find 8968 additional Informations|Informations to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

  35. Predrag Timotic Says:
    May 22nd, 2018 at 5:20 am

    … [Trackback]

    […] Find More here|Find More|Read More Infos here|There you will find 7596 additional Infos|Infos to that Topic: medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=323 […]

Comments

You must be logged in to post a comment.