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Journalism academics say name suppression doesn't work

25 June 2019

An experienced lawyer can get a name suppression order that may not otherwise be made, two former court reporters who now teach journalism say.

"Court reporters tell us it can come down to who is affluent enough to hire a good lawyer," they say in a press release.

Catherine Strong and Fran Tyler of Massey University say they think suppression practices in New Zealand "are past their used-by date".

They say New Zealand's "suppression laws" don't work in the age of multiple internet platforms.

"When suppression was first introduced in 1920 there was no internet, no social media, in fact, no television. The courts could control publicity by restricting newspapers.

"But times have changed, information is no longer controlled. This is demonstrated time and again when New Zealand journalists are prevented from publishing a criminal’s identity on official news media sites, but the information is still circulated widely by overseas social media sites."

The academics say the problem is that a convicted criminal can have their name suppressed by a unilateral decision of the judge.

"The judge has the power to keep the criminal’s identity secret or public. And this name suppression means the public is vulnerable to this unidentified criminal being able to do it again."

They say that in the earlier days of New Zealand newspapers "before name suppressions was enacted", criminals' names were widely publicised and their activities reported in detail.

"Those early court stories indicated the criminal and crimes were the talk of the town, and that discussion was valuable. It prevented others from committing the same, sometimes it led to changes in societal standards and sometimes even to the making of new laws.

"And what is wrong with that?

"Too often, currently, it seems courts keep a criminal’s name secret because they have previously been clean people… or at least seemed to be. Perhaps these are the very people who should be outed. Their respectable looks can con people, so the public needs a heads up to be cautious around them."

Last updated on the 16th September 2019