MEG MULLIGAN AGAINST THE OTAGO DAILY TIMES
Case Number: 3433
Council Meeting: 25 September 2023
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Publication: Otago Daily Times
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Children and Young People
Discrimination and Diversity
Conflicts of Interest
Ruling Categories: Court Reporting
- The Otago Daily Times published a story on August 26, 2023, headlined Dunedin schoolgirl stalker Shane Mulligan shattered schoolgirls future. The story reported the evidence of Mr Mulligan’s pursuit of a teenage girl over a period of three years and his conviction on a charge of harassment. It also included comment from the young woman who had been the target of his harassment, who waived Court suppression of her name.
- Meg Mulligan, a relation of Shane's, complained that the Otago Daily Time (ODT) was "exploiting a vulnerable and unwell individual" by refusing to take the story about his crime down from their website as well as allowing its journalist to continue speaking with Shane.
- She said the ODT’s response that Shane Mulligan wanted the article to remain ‘live’ and that he continued to speak to the journalist was proof of how ill Shane really was and showed clearly that his state of mind was not stable.
- “He is not able to see how damaging the article is and possibly now considers the journalist as a friend or someone to confide in as he is very socially isolated...”
- Ms Mulligan said Shane was in danger of increased mental distress as well as abuse from members of the public within his Dunedin community.
- “You should not need proof of a formalised diagnosis to know that Shane is extremely mentally unwell. Any person who gets to know him and the content he puts out online can clearly see that he is severely unstable,” said Ms Mulligan.
- The ODT responded that it was not unsympathetic to her concerns. It had swiftly closed down comment threads on social media and got the NZ Herald (which also ran the story) to do the same.
- However, it had kept the article on its website. In coming to this decision, it had balanced her concerns for Shane’s welfare against its responsibilities to openly report court proceedings.
- “Our feelings are that an open justice and reporting of the activities of the court are a vital part of the democratic process.”
- Going through the justice system had undoubtedly been traumatic for Shane, but his offending had also been traumatic for the complainant and her family. Their feelings and public concern regarding this type of offending also needed to be considered.
- The ODT did not feel it was exploiting him. If the family felt that his mental state was not fully traversed in Court, that was an issue to be taken up with his defence lawyer.
- The Media Council notes that while this must be distressing for Shane Mulligan’s family that is the case for the families of many people who face criminal charges.
- The Council has always held that open justice and reporting of the activities of the court are vital in our democracy. Most Court proceedings are open to the media although there are clear rules as to what can and cannot be reported. Judges have the authority to suppress information, including names, if there are good reasons for doing so and it is over to defence lawyers to apply for name suppression where there is a case for it.
- It was the ODT editor’s call to run this story and keep it posted on its website. It is not the Media Council’s role to second guess the editor’s judgement and there is nothing to suggest that any of the Council’s principles have been breached.
- Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.