Case Number: 859

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2001

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Privacy
Court Reporting

The Press Council has not upheld a complaint by X against The New Zealand Herald concerning the manner in which it dealt with aspects of court proceedings taken against her.

On 9 July 2001 the complainant was convicted after pleading guilty to the theft of a large quantity of pills from her employer, a District Health Board. She was sentenced on 27 July. On 3 August her name was permanently suppressed. She had originally also been charged with possession of a precursor substance, but that charge was withdrawn by the police. The summary of facts that accompanied the charges was amended to delete material relating to the potential street value of the drug that could have been manufactured from the stolen pills.

X complained to the Press Council that the newspaper had breached her privacy by publishing details about her age and employment. She also asserted that the newspaper had breached the terms of the final suppression order. The Council does not endorse her view on either matter. The offending was clearly of great public interest and needed to be reported. Courts are given considerable discretion as to what information about defendants may be suppressed. In this instance, interim and final orders made by different judges suppressed only her name. The New Zealand Herald was therefore entitled to publish other information stated publicly in the court proceedings.

She also complained that the newspaper had breached standards of accuracy and fairness by referring to material relating to the charge that had been dropped by the police. The New Zealand Herald first referred to the case in detail on 28/29 July, when reporting the conviction and sentence. This report, and a later one on the name suppression, both referred briefly to the potential street value of the stolen pills.

The editor stated that the information it printed about the possible implications of the theft had been gained in conversation with a police officer after the conclusion of the court proceedings, and had been attributed to him. The newspaper saw these comments as relevant to the story of the theft conviction.

The Press Council considers that the newspaper’s use of information freely supplied to a reported by the police in this way falls squarely within acceptable journalistic practice.

The complaint is not upheld.

People with complaints against a newspaper should first complain to the editor of the publication and then, if not satisfied with the response, complain to the Press Council. Complaints should be addressed to the Secretary, P O Box 10 879 The Terrace, Wellington. Tel 473 5220. Information on the Press Council is available on the internet at www.presscouncil.org.nz