A reluctant complaint

Dear Commissioner Broad,

This is a complaint alleging that Television New Zealand Ltd broke S140 of the Criminal Justice Act 1985 with their 6 pm One News bulletin on Tuesday 5 October 2010.

A video of the particular item can be found at http://tvnz.co.nz/local-elections-2010/court-appearances-over-alleged-voting-scam-3818752/video

The item showed the arrest of a man in relation to alleged enrolment fraud in Papatoetoe.

At around 50 seconds into the item, the reporter speaks to the camera with a Labour Party billboard in the background, showing photos and names of three candidates for the local elections. Slowly the shot zoomed in until the only two things visible were the reporter and the photo of the candidate on the right. At this stage his billboard photo is almost as large as the reporter. It is not an obscure background image.

The candidate prominently focused on was , who was one of the two men arrested. At the time of the broadcast his name and identity was subject to an interim suppression order from the Auckland District Court.

The inclusion of the billboard featuring Mr Singh, and the extended close up zoom onto his image was obviously a deliberate decision by to indicate or hint that Mr Singh was the person arrested. They did also show some images of other candidates and billboards but they were extremely rapid fire.

In the recent case of v Slater, the judgement of Judge Harvey made it clear that it is not necessary to actually name the person with , to be in breach of an order. Judge Harvey states:

The information can be decoded in the same way that an aggregation of information may lead to the identification of a person by way of a process of elimination – another form of interpreting a particular code or solving a puzzle.

The focusing on his name and photo allowed people to “solve the puzzle” of who had appeared in court. Presumably, this must have been the intention of TVNZ, otherwise they had no need to film their item in front on Mr Singh’s billboard.

I should note that personally I strongly disapproved of the situation where Mr Singh was able to get interim name suppression. I would even go so far as to say that I thought TVNZ provided a public service by implicitly identifying him before the deadline for posting in votes.

But I do not believe one can expect other “publishers” to obey the laws around name suppression, if they are not applied equally.

Therefore I reluctantly file this complaint.

Faithfully,

David Farrar

(complaint was sent by e-mail on Saturday 9 October 20110)

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