Judge restricts online reporting of case

By Edward Gay, NZPA

A judge has today taken the unprecedented step of banning news websites from naming two men charged with murder while allowing newspapers, radio stations and TV networks to reveal who they are.

Judge David Harvey said online media could not use the names, or publish images of the accused, to prevent the public searching for the information when the case comes to trial.

He said he was "concerned about someone Googling someone's name and being able to access it later".

He was also "concerned about the viral effect of digital publication".

Judge Harvey ruled in Manukau District Court that it was OK to report the names and publish the images in print tomorrow or on tonight's 6pm television news but not on news websites.

To find out who the men are you can buy tomorrow's New Zealand Herald.

Lawyers for nzherald.co.nz are studying the ruling today.

Two unemployed men, aged 21 and 23, were yesterday arrested and appeared in the court today facing charges of murdering 14-year-old John Hapeta, assault with intent to rob and possessing a pistol for the commission of a crime.

They were remanded in custody to reappear in Manukau District court on Friday.

A 15-year-old boy had also been arrested and charged with being a party to assault with intent to rob and also appeared in Manukau Youth Court today.

He will reappear in Manukau Youth Court on Friday.

University of Canterbury media law expert associate professor Ursula Cheer said she is not aware of a suppression order like this before.

"This is hugely different because it's taking out a large block of people but not everybody, because the norm is to try and cover all media," Dr Cheer said.

She said it could reflect the judge's view that new media is taking over "old media" in terms of reader numbers.

"Suppression orders are usually intended to make sure a significant number of people don't get to see certain information and he could be saying: I think those who might be wanting to rush to the internet might be out-numbering the others now, it's just a guess," Dr Cheer said.

"On the other hand it does look absurd in a way. Why bother to take it off the internet? Once it's out, it's out," she said.

Media law commentator Steven Price said he had never heard of a suppression order which applied to some media types and not others.

He would not comment further until he saw Judge Harvey's judgement.

Judge Harvey teaches the Law and Information Technology course at the University of Auckland. The course looks at the way technology impacts on evidence, jurisdiction and freedom of information.

Judge Harvey has also written a textbook on the internet and law called internet.law.nz.

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