Fairfax editors say they didn't know of blocks

Senior executives of the Fairfax New Zealand media group said they had closely monitored other reporting on controversial police raids and subsequent court hearings, but denied detailed knowledge of constraints on publishing related police surveillance material.

Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst and Fairfax group executive editor Paul Thompson yesterday both denied in the High Court at Wellington knowing that the intercepted communications were blocked, though Pankhurst said he was generally aware the Crimes Act prohibited their disclosure.

Pankhurst and Fairfax are alleged to have committed contempt of court by interfering with the administration of justice.

Pankhurst said he was aware section 312K of the Crimes Act barred disclosure of intercepted material, but he considered a lot of the information was already public when the newspaper ran 13 such extracts from the interceptions in its stories on November 14.

Fairfax has argued the "cat was out of the bag" by then, and that subsequent publications of disclosures were only repetition.

Pankhurst and Thompson said Fairfax carefully monitored other media, but neither admitted to detailed knowledge that legal concerns had stopped media rivals disclosing the intercepted material on legal grounds.

Told TV3 cancelled plans to air extracts from the police affidavit on the Campbell Live current affairs show on November 9 on legal grounds, and that the Herald on Sunday, a rival publication, said on November 11 it had the affidavits but could not legally publish them, Pankhurst said he was not aware of the details. "I am not a regular reader of the Herald on Sunday," he said.

Fairfax obtained a copy of the police affidavit on November 12, he said.

Solicitor-General David Collins, QC, took the executives through a High Court order blocking details "directly or indirectly, of the content of the intercepted communications" and a District Court order "suppressing all evidence given relating to the content of intercepted communications".

Pankhurst accepted the suppression orders were known to Fairfax journalists "in relation to bail hearings".

Pressed by Dr Collins on how far a newspaper could take the concept of publishing material suppressed in court, when it sourced the same material from outside the court, Pankhurst told Justice Tony Randerson the newspaper would not publish a person's name when it had been suppressed in court, but separately given to a reporter outside the court.

Dr Collins made minor changes to some of the grounds he had set out at the start of the case, but was stopped by Justice Randerson and Justice Warwick Gendall from making Fairfax and Pankhurst liable for a separate contempt in terms of breaching High Court and District Court suppression orders.

Fairfax lawyer Hugh Rennie, QC, said Dr Collins at one stage said individual journalists on newspapers might be charged under the Crimes Act for disclosing intercepted communications.

"In the event, police decided not to lay charges."

- NZPA

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