Hard News by Russell Brown


I'm such a wuss. I had figured that reporting around the present distribution of suppressed information in contempt of court would be highly circumspect. The bar in these matters is set very low: it can be a breach simply to provide information that leads people to discover suppressed information.

But the news media - and even the lawyers of Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton - have readily associated yesterday's pamphlet distribution with the Nicholas trial, they've effectively named names and, in the case of Sean Plunket they've danced delicately around the issue on the radio (such poise for a big man!), at one point asking Schollum's lawyer: "Members of the public might ask what more damage could be done. Why are these suppression orders important given that the Nicholas case is dealt with?"

I thought the media might stop short of saying that the suppressed information has been published on at least two locally-authored blogs, but DPF did that on Breakfast this morning. Trial judge Justice Tony Randerson has already sounded a warning about suppressed material being published on the Internet.

This doesn't mean, as a media person suggested to me yesterday, that there's a particular problem with blogs. Indeed, in past cases, such as the celebrity drug trial - which seems like a load of jolly old hockey sticks compared to this one - the major bloggers were really quite responsible.

The community forums on Trade Me, on the other hand, were contempt-a-go-go. It appears that now that Trade Me is owned by the country's biggest media company, there's a little more policing going on. And another live thread has disappeared in the time I've been writing this paragraph. Welcome to the Internet, Fairfax. Kind of scary, isn't it?

What I find interesting is that the breach has been in both old (the distribution of leaflets in the street is a particularly venerable form of speech) and new media. And that I knew about the content of the leaflets before I knew about the contemptuous blogs.

I wasn't at all surprised that there were no guilty verdicts in the Nicholas case. It became clear as its last week ran out that the prosecution evidence simply wasn't good enough. But the defence account itself is quite enough to give me the creeps. Burly policemen who watch each other having sex with a 17 or 18 year-old girl are not my idea of good cops. I find myself agreeing with the Family First Lobby.

It's not hard to understand the emotion that would drive these women to distribute their information in breach of a judge's orders; or their powerful sense of injustice. The problem is that suprression orders like these are made for a reason, and that their breaching may have perverse and unintended consequences. But if I said any more than that that, I'd be in breach myself ...