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 | »

Editors and name suppression

By Steven | December 19, 2007

Are editors liable if their publications breach name suppression? Not if they didn’t read the story, and it was reasonable for them not to, according to a British case. The story identified the victim of a sex offence. But the editor said he hadn’t read it. It was on page 35, and the editor had been on holiday shortly before the issue was published. (The company that published the story was still liable, though).

Would it work here? The editor was relying on a statutory defence that doesn’t exist in New Zealand. But the same sort of factors may be being applied. Editors rarely get charged in NZ for breaches of suppression orders. I can recall two cases: Louis Pierard of Hawke’s Bay Today and Paul Thompson of The Press – both charged for breaching suppression rules by identifying sex victims. Thompson hadn’t read the story; the charges were dropped (after some expensive legal wrangling). The reporter agreed to accept diversion. Fairfax pleaded guilty. The same went for Pierard: the publisher (APN) was found guilty but the charges against the editor were dropped. (There’s a terrific story “Applying the law, or getting personal?” by Geoff Collett of The Press (not online; 23 Dec 2006), that explore the issues in a very balanced way).

 The bottom line: editors aren’t likely to be charged very often (though there mayt be some increase in the probability for editors who have rubbed local police the wrong way). And if they are, they’re unlikely to be convicted unless it’s clear they’ve seen the story before it went to print. Publishers, however, are more likely to carry the can for breaches.

What’s disturbing, though, is that there are literally hundreds of stories that reveal details about people whose names have been suppressed – from victims to defendants – sufficient to identify them. It seems very unfair on the few who are singled out for punishment. 

Topics: Name suppression | No Comments »


You must be logged in to post a comment.