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 | »

Highlights from Press Council forum

By Steven | March 16, 2008

Top 10 most interesting points from Thursday’s public forum, “The Press and the Right to Know Under Siege”, where the speakers were Law Commissioner John Burrows QC and the chairs of the Australian and NZ Press Councils, Professor Ken McKinnon and Barry Paterson QC:

  1. Barry Paterson, a retired High Court judge, “hated TV in the courtroom”.
  2. He thinks that in most cases, media publicity doesn’t prejudice fair trials: “I don’t subscribe to the view that juries are usually influenced by media comment.” He said he had presided over two murder trials where defendants were acquitted despite the wrongful prior publication of their terrible records.
  3. He is worried that statutes and regulations may be chipping away at freedom of expression. Examples: restrictions on reporting about suicide in the Coroners Act; the proposal to restrict access to births, deaths and marriages registers; the restrictions on policitcal speech in the Electoral Finance Act (he was surprised that the Crown Law Office vet deferred to the government’s political judgment, and that this “margin of appreciation” could tip a finely balanced freedom of expression issue in favour of allowing encroachment); the possibility of wide codes, and later regulations, aimed at non-communicable diseases, affecting the advertising, sponsorship and marketing of particular goods under the Public Health Bill; and the proposal to amalgamate regulation of various media platforms. As to amalgamation, he says it is “logical perhaps”, and the different rules for different platforms “need to be made more standard”, but “government regulation of freedom of the press is a contradiction in terms.” (I wonder quite what he means by this. Surely he’s not suggesting we should dump the Defamation Act, for example. Does he object to the BSA’s jurisdiction, thinking, perhaps, that self-regulation would be better? Isn’t the press regulating freedom of the press also a bit of a contradiction in terms?)
  4. Paterson says the tension between freedom of expression and privacy rights is “the Press Council’s greatest challenge”, and the Press Council will have to tackle the definition of the “public interest” exception, as Australia has done. (The Australian PC has developed a detailed set of standards about privacy. Public interest is defined as “involving a matter capable of affecting the people at large so they might be legitimately interested in, or concerned about, what is going on, or what may happen to them or to others.” For myself, I don’t think this adds much, and immediately raises a question about public interest in stories that only affect a sector of the population.)
  5. He believes the tort of privacy was inevitable.
  6. He says suppression orders are often given for good reasons, and although they are “too readily granted”, this is often because poor District Court judges are faced with long lists of cases in a short time frame with many finely balanced suppression issues to resolve.
  7. Paterson is concerned that we don’t value freedom of the press enough. He points to a 14-country BBC poll revealing that while 56% of those polled felt that freedom of the press was very important to ensure a free society, 40% felt that it was more important to maintain social harmony and peace. (He wondered whether a factor in that was the finding that 29% of people in the US, Britain and Germany felt that the press did a bad job of reporting accurately.) The poll also noted that many people thought that media ownership was an issue of concern.
  8. John Burrows listed recent advances for freedom of the press, notably the Bill of Rights Act, the Official Information Act, the loosening of defamation law, the abolition of sedition and increased protection of sources under the new Evidence Act.
  9. But he said we need to be vigilant to ensure any restrictions on the press are properly justified. He thinks objectives of the Electoral Finance Act are okay, but its provisions “may well have gone further than they should”. He, too, was concerned at proposals to limit access to the births, deaths and marriages registers. He was worried that security information classification and new police surveillance powers need to be watched. And he thinks that the Privacy Act is being misapplied to deny the media information that it needs, but “I don’t know how you fix that.”
  10. Ken McKinnon mostly spoke about Australian issues, but made some comments relevant to NZ:

Topics: General, Internet issues, Media ethics, Name suppression, Press Council, Privacy tort, Suppression orders | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Highlights from Press Council forum”

  1. Anne Hunt Says:
    March 16th, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Great to see this important forum summarised in print, and as a member of the audience, there were a number of issues I could identify with.
    One in particular, relating to suppression orders also being suppressed.
    Sounds bizarre and unlikely. However in relation to my banned book, the Court of Appeal agreed a High Court minute had been “cryptic” – one of the confidential terms of settlement was that the settlement itself was confidential!
    As a result of the forum, I am preparing a report on my own experiences in NZ Courts for the Australia Press Council, confirming that the Australians at least have a commitment to the Right to Know.


You must be logged in to post a comment.