NAOMI DODUNSKI AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3140

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2021

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Ruling Categories: Court Reporting
Names Suppression Of
Privacy

Overview

CASE NO: 3140

RULING BY THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINT OF NAOMI DODUNSKI AGAINST STUFF

FINDING: INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED

DATE: NOVEMBER 2021

Stuff ran a story on October 14, 2021 about two Auckland sex workers who had been arrested in Blenheim and charged with having breached Covid-19 travel restrictions. It named the women after their court appearance. A complaint was also lodged against a similar story appearing in the New Zealand Herald, see Case no 3139,

Naomi Dodunski complained that the stories breached Media Council Principle 2 (privacy) and Principle 7 (discrimination and diversity) by publishing their names as well as placing them in danger due to the unique vulnerability they have because of their profession.  While the women did not have their names suppressed by the court it was a violation of their privacy and unethical to publish their names and professions without their explicit permission.

She went on to say that publication placed them at risk, could prejudice jurors in their upcoming trial, expose them to discrimination, harassment and violence and was likely to result in a backlash against all sex workers. Focus on their occupation was salacious. Sex workers usually used assumed names and outing someone as a sex worker was ethically indefensible as it could jeopardise relationships, open them up to discrimination in housing, domestic violence, stalking and violence from obsessive clients and difficulty entering some countries.

Stuff said it had also named the occupation of the other people who had breached lock down orders, including a lawyer, an equestrian rider, another sex worker who travelled north, a woman on the Teacher’s Council and a property developer who went to Wanaka.

The fact they were sex workers was an important part of the story. It explained why they were in Blenheim and who they were associating with. This was information the community was entitled to know.

Stuff also said it was up to the judge to make suppression orders surrounding court appearances. It stood by its reporting in the interests of open justice and public interest.

The Media Council notes that Ms Dodunski made a very well-argued complaint and that the vulnerability of sex workers deserves recognition. However, there were no suppression orders at the time of publication, and this was a matter of high public interest. These factors trumped any right to privacy and no breach of media principles was established.

It is usual court practice for the names of adults charged with offences to be publicly available unless suppression is requested and granted by a judge. It is also standard practice for the media to report cases of public interest, as there clearly was in this case.  It is to be noted that it has become common-place for the names of lockdown breakers appearing in Court to be published.  To make an editorial decision to not name a defendant because of her occupation could be seen as grossly unfair and inconsistent.

There were insufficient grounds for the complaint to proceed.

The Media Council notes that subsequently the women’s lawyer applied for name suppression, which was declined. The lawyer appealed this decision. An interim suppression order was then imposed to allow an appeal to be heard.

The names were removed from the Stuff story pending a final decision.

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