Online ban was never going to work

I don’t know whether I’m more angry, sad or embarrassed at the internet news censorship ruling by a New Zealand judge last week. 

Manukau District Court judge David Harvey has decided newspapers, television and radio can name the two men charged with murdering South Auckland teenager John Hapeta on August 12. Even their images are allowed to be used. But not online. 

What’s the point of stopping websites from publishing the names when newspapers are allowed to? It appears it may be that the judge is worried about potential jurors Googling the names but those potential jurors are just as likely to crank up Google and search for info on the accused after reading the names in their local newspaper. 

It’s also likely most people from outside the area would have had little interest in the names before Judge Harvey’s somewhat disjointed suppression order. 

However, once the good judge banned the names from being published online, I’m sure there was a flurry of activity as Kiwi web-surfers from Auckland to Invercargill jumped online and Googled their little socks off to find the names on overseas sites. 

The online ban has done nothing more than increase interest and make New Zealand look like a backwater. Or, at the very least, just a little bit oppressed. 

Judge Harvey is meant to be pretty tech-savvy, having written a textbook on New Zealand cyberlaw, and this does feel like perhaps he is testing the waters to see if and how this kind of suppression order might work. 

However, it’s quite clear it hasn’t worked. Let’s hope he doesn’t decide to dip his toes in the water again.


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