Editorial: Keeping up with times

PETER O'NEILL
Last updated 06:21 27/12/2013

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OPINION: Worlds have again collided in the Timaru District Court.

In October, a Timaru woman was sentenced to a two-month monitored curfew and 80 hours of community work for breaching a suppression order on Facebook, and this week Judge Joanna Maze saw fit to again issue a warning to Facebook users.

The case this time arose from a family dispute, details of which were subsequently aired online, but on Monday, in sentencing the defendant, Judge Maze suppressed her name and said anyone identifying her on social media risked prosecution.

This is a minefield.

For one, the horse left the stable the moment people started talking online about the case and a subsequent suppression order seems almost posthumous. especially as digging up previous comments is so easy.

And while mainstream media may be aware of the legal risks of identifying people before they have their first appearance in court, the general populace, who have become de facto publishers thanks to social media, have no such knowledge. Or if they do, they choose to ignore it.

And how easy it is to gossip about someone's alleged wrongdoing when no-one is warning you not to. Facebook is a bit like chatting over the back fence. The difference now is anyone can "hear" it.

Which brings us to point two.

Judge Maze issued her warning in court, not on Facebook.

Facebook users certainly may become aware of the warning, but it shouldn't be assumed. It was published in the paper and appeared on The Timaru Herald's website, and links have been made from there, but the courts don't have a Facebook presence.

Maybe it's time they did.

Increasingly this is an issue. You can't have different sets of rules for the different worlds.

So change is needed. Either we do away with suppression (but, actually, it protects victims as well) or the authorities get proactive in warning people about breaching name suppression and make greater examples of those who err.

Which raises point three.

Having issued the warning this week, how will the court know if anyone breaches it?

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- The Timaru Herald

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