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Medaling with justice?

By Steven | February 22, 2008

No doubt you’ve heard that John Campbell interviewed¬†a guy he said was one of the War museum medal thieves. He said TV3 had made only one promise: not to reveal his identity. (Except for the other promise, which was not to ask him about the reward money, though Campbell reported that the man said he was getting some of it).

Some top-of-the-head comments. I can’t do much more than raise issues, I’m afraid:

Ursula Cheer pointed out on Morning Report this morning that the police may seek a search warrant against TV3’s premises. She also noted that the Court of Appeal has laid down guidelines for such warrants (see TVNZ v AG 1995 2 NZLR 641). They should only be granted in exceptional circumstances, where it’s important for the progress of the prosecution. News dissemination shouldn’t be unreasonably impaired. The Bill of Rights needs to be factored in. Though these guidelines are tight, it looks to me like there’s a pretty strong case for the police here.

As Jim Tully said on Nine-to-Noon, presumably TV3 will have taken steps to ensure that there’s no evidence of the guy’s identity lying around. Might there be issues of destroying evidence, being an accomplice after the fact, or obstructing justice? (I’m afraid I don’t know enough about these offences to do more than raise the question).

If the matter can get before a court, a judge has a discretion under the Evidence Act to force a journalist to reveal a source. The judge would have to weigh up a range of factors including the importance of the protection of sources against the likely benefit to the interests of justice. I’m not sure how the issue would get before the court at this stage though. I suppose the museum could file a John Doe claim (ie without specifying a particular defendant) for conversion. Or there could be a pre-filing application for third-party discovery against TV3.

What’s been a bit lost in the discussion so far, I think, is the general importance of protecting sources. If the police or the courts force journalists to break promises of confidentiality, then other sources, with potentially important things to say in the public interest, may be unwilling to come forward.

What might the BSA do? No doubt someone will complain that TV3 breached the law and order standard. This is misconceived, I think. TV3 wasn’t¬†encouraging criminal behaviour or glamorising crime. I doubt a complaint would be upheld.

Final issue, and one that I also know little about: is there a Proceeds of Crime Act issue here? Can a reward be treated as proceeds of crime such that it may be open to be confiscated if the criminals are caught?

Topics: Breach of confidence, Media ethics, NZ Bill of Rights Act | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Medaling with justice?”

  1. IdiotSavant Says:
    February 22nd, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Final issue, and one that I also know little about: is there a Proceeds of Crime Act issue here?

    Yes. Under the PoCA, “proceeds” is “any property that is derived or realised, directly or indirectly, by any person from the commission of the offence”. Though it must be a serious offence (punishable by 5 years imprisonment or more – I’m sure this counts), and they have to be convicted first.

    Of course, once the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill is passed, they won’t even need to bother with that. Just pick out someone they suspect of having committed the offence, seize their house, car, and abything else they have, and challenge them to prove themselves innocent.

  2. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    February 23rd, 2008 at 9:04 am

    What might the BSA do?

    How about accuracy? I was certainly under the impression that the hooded figure was one of the burglars – the note on the screen (‘Actor’s voice’) made clear that the voice was re-dubbed, but the impression was not that the whole thing was staged…

  3. Steven Says:
    February 23rd, 2008 at 10:11 am

    I didn’t realise that. I agree accuracy is a goer (or deceptive programming practices). But I wonder whether the breach is significant enough.

  4. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    February 24th, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Well now that we have this story, I suspect tv3 might actually uphold the complaint internally (might we even get a pre-emptive apology on Monday?).

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