When are people going to realise that name suppression only excites the public appetite for information that, had it been reported in the usual fashion, would barely have interested us? Had Sandra Grant, a hitherto unknown lawyer, not been granted interim name suppression I bet she wouldn't have warranted the colour photograph on page four of the NZ Herald that appeared once suppression lapsed. Her drink-drive conviction had become almost secondary to the main story which was the name suppression itself. We were affronted that someone with an inner knowledge of the machinations of the legal system should try to seek anonymity; the implication was that she was being afforded privileges that may not be so readily accessible to the rest of us. Had name suppression not been a factor, Grant would at most have warranted a passing mention in the newspaper. And I certainly wouldn't be writing about her today.
Broadcaster Martin Devlin similarly created an unnecessary amount of interest when he sought name suppression following a fit of disorderly conduct in Quay Street one morning. Had this been reported in the routine way most of us would have dismissed it as barely interesting. But coming as it did after much speculation, our curiosity was piqued. Who was this celebrity and what exactly had he done? Chat at water-coolers and on message boards was rife with hints as to his identity and, of course, once his name was made public talk then turned to whether the guy was indeed a celebrity. To make matters worse, it was a strategy that seemed at odds with his persona. Devlin makes his living from the media and from having an upfront, opinionated demeanour. To suddenly become shy and retiring seemed disingenuous.
It's not just name suppression that can have the opposite effect to that intended. Any attempt to censor ideas or information, to keep the public in the dark, often leads to wider publicity and a greater audience than would otherwise have been the case. Many of us still remember the Virgin in the Condom exhibit at Te Papa in the nineties. Tania Kovats' controversial sculpture of a Virgin Mary inside a condom thoroughly outraged the Catholic community. The resulting furore kept the work in the news and in our collective consciousness for far longer than it deserved.
The kerfuffle over French sex-violence movie Baise Moi similarly caught my attention in 2002. I'd have never even heard of it, let alone schlepped along to a movie theatre to see it, had its merits not been so widely debated in the media. My appetite was whetted. Exactly how bad could this movie be? I had to see for myself. But, more importantly, I took as a personal affront the fact that others were deciding what I should and shouldn't see - as if I was some child incapable of making my own choices. If the prissily named Society for Promotion of Community Standards didn't want me to see this movie then - just like a contrary child - I couldn't buy my ticket fast enough. Mature? Not so much. Human nature? Definitely.