How to: Restrictions on the freedom of the media

Introduction

The NEW ZEALAND BILL OF RIGHTS ACT 1990 guarantees the right of freedom of expression. However, the exercise of this right by the press and other media is subject to the restrictions outlined below.

Restrictions on reports of court proceedings

Probably the most substantial restrictions on the freedom of the media are those that apply to the reporting of court proceedings. The court has the power in certain circumstances to make suppression orders banning the media from reporting certain details about a case; there are also specific rules that apply to court reporting of sexual cases (see below).

Further, while a trial is in progress the media are not permitted to publish anything that might prejudice the outcome of the case.

Proceedings in the Family Court are always closed.

When can the court make a suppression order?

The court may make a suppression order prohibiting the media from publishing certain information about a case if this is required in the interests of any of the following:

  • justice
  • public morality
  • the reputation of any victim of any alleged sexual offence or offence of extortion, or
  • the security or defence of New Zealand.

In these circumstances the court can do one or more of the following:

  • prohibit the media publishing all or part of the evidence given
  • prohibit the media publishing the name of any witness, or any details that would enable the witness to be identified
  • clear the public from the courtroom (except that news reporters can't be excluded unless the interests of New Zealand's security or defence require it)

Name suppression for defendants and others

The court also has a general power to prohibit the media from publishing the name, address or occupation of the person accused or convicted of the offence, or of any other person connected with the proceedings (see How to obtain name suppression in criminal cases).

Permanent name suppression for defendants is ordered only rarely, as there is a strong presumption by the court that it is in the public interest to make the names available.

Sexual offences

The court has the power to make suppression orders in cases involving sexual crimes (see above). Further, in this type of case the media is not permitted to publish the name of the victim, nor any details likely to lead to him or her being identified, unless the victim is 16 or over and the court specifically makes an order permitting publication.

In sexual cases the court also has the specific power to ban the reporting of the criminal acts involved in the case.

Actions against the media for defamation

If anything is printed or displayed about you that is untrue and that damages your reputation, you may bring an action against the publisher of the material for defamation (see How to bring an action in defamation).

Cautionary notes
  • The protection of your reputation and privacy is important. Therefore, if anything is published about you that is untrue and that harms your reputation or standing in the community, you should take early action to minimise its effect. You should consult a lawyer immediately to ensure that you react effectively to the defamatory publication.


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