Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Prejudice and the Internet

Tēnā koutou katoa - Greetings to you all
New Zealand district court Judge David Harvey has ruled that the names of two young men, aged 21 and 23, charged with the recent murder of a 14 year old boy, are not to be published on the Internet.

Judge Harvey permitted the publication of their names and images on television news bulletins and in newspapers. He was reported to have said that he was “concerned about someone Googling someone's name and being able to access it later”, and was “concerned about the viral effect of digital publication”. This unusual and unprecedented decision is now before the New Zealand Law Commission.

Previously published

Judge Harvey recently published a text book on law and
the Internet entitled, Internet.law.nz, so the assumption is that he knows a thing or two about the issues involved here. Presumably he feels that publishing the names of those accused of murder on the Internet would be to the detriment of a fair trial.

Already there is much information widely spread over the Internet about this case. It must be very difficult for any crime release report about an impending trial not to cause people to jump to conclusions. For this and other reasons it’s often difficult for a jury to be assembled of people who do not know significant details about a case like this.

New Zealand law upholds that an accused is innocent until proven guilty. The ethical and humanitarian issues at play here are not slight. They pose interesting questions about the possible prejudicial use of the Internet in connection with an impending trial, while challenging the almost inevitable, but unlawful use of that medium for a purpose that the order prohibits.

Clearly, Judge Harvey’s decision has the potential to set a precedent for excluding the use of the Internet for publishing information about crime that otherwise might be distributed legally using any other publishing means.
Ka kite anō - Catch ya later


V Yonkers said...

I don't have a problem with withholding the names from the internet as long as the same is done from other media (TV, newspaper). I find it interesting that those of sexual offenses can have have their names and images plastered all over the TV and press in the US BEFORE trial, yet get a footnote when they are found innocent. I feel that the rules should be the same for all medias. What makes this judge feel that the same problems would not happen if the names are publicized through TV or newspapers?

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Virginia!

My feelings are aligned with yours on this. As for the before and after trial reports of innocent accused, I can only say that it is no different in other western countries - NZ, UK - and seem to be a feature of news reporting unfortunately. Bad news invariably gets better press than good news.

The Internet is ubiquitous, however, and I feel that for some, equity and egalitarian principles in considering people are not necessarily easily translated so that they can be applied in a similar way to processes.

Ka kite