Blog breached suppression orders, say police

The first blogger to be charged with breaching court-ordered suppression orders says he will defend his actions because the laws which protect people's identities need changing.

While Cameron Slater's Whaleoil blogs have resulted in a court summons, another internet blogger sparked urgent action by the Cabinet Office after discussing the New Year's honours list recipients online – almost a week before their names are announced.

Slater has been charged over online blog posts that police say could lead to the identification of an entertainer and of a former Olympian who have been granted name suppression.

Bloggers have received warnings in the past for breaching court orders online, but none have been charged.

Canterbury University associate professor of journalism Jim Tully said the decision to charge Slater showed authorities recognised that suppression rulings would become meaningless unless action was taken against those who flouted them.

"The courts and authorities are setting about doing something about the way in which name suppression is being undermined."

In the past five years, suppression rulings had been frequently breached because people outside the mainstream media, who were either ignorant or flouting the laws, could publish information online which anyone could access quickly.

"The criminal justice system needs to review the whole issue ... these days, how do we keep anything a secret?"

Media lawyer Robert Stewart said police had to weigh up whether it was in the public interest to charge someone with breaching a court order, or whether to ignore a breach if it was not in the mainstream media.

Slater said he had not published the name of the entertainer who was granted permanent name suppression by the courts in November.

The entertainer had admitted performing an indecent act on a teenage girl who has since spoken out against the court's decision as she wanted the public to know his name.

Although he was interviewed by police a week before being charged, Slater did not take the blog posts offline until he received the summons because he did not believe they breached the court orders. "I live on the edge," he said.

He planned to defend the charges in court. If acquitted, he would publish the blogs again. He believed suppression laws were out of date.

Slater was also charged with publishing material which could lead to the identification of a former Olympian facing sex charges, and to the identification of the victim.

That blog showed a series of cryptic images and an internet link to an online news article about the case.

However, Mr Stewart said if looking at the pictures could lead to the identification of a person who had suppression, that would breach the court order.

Also published online over Christmas was a post from a blogger criticising some of the New Zealanders yet to be officially named in this year's New Year's honours list.

The blog sparked an urgent phone call from the Honours Secretariat on Christmas Eve to media organisations, asking them to respect a December 31 embargo.

A spokesman for duty minister Murray McCully said it was disappointing that some of the names were published online, particularly as media organisations had for years respected the protocol of waiting to publish the honours.

It was unlikely any action could be taken against the blogger, but the spokesman said the Government might need to consider whether it was possible to protect the list from being distributed on the internet ahead of being made public.

THE CHARGES

* Cameron Slater will face five charges in Auckland District Court on January 5.

* He has been charged with four counts of breaching name suppression orders.

* The orders ban the publication of the names, addresses or any information which could lead to people being identified.

* He has also been charged with publishing information which could lead to the victim of a crime being identified.

The Dominion Post