NAOMI DODUNSKI AGAUINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 3139

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2021

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Ruling Categories: Court Reporting
Names Suppression Of
Privacy

Overview

CASE NO: 3139 RULING BY THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINT OF NAOMI DODUNSKI AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

DATE: NOVEMBER 2021

New Zealand Herald 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 lodged against a similar story appearing in Stuff, see Case No 3140.

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.

The New Zealand Herald responded saying the two women, who were charged with flouting the public health order prohibiting travel outside Auckland, were not granted name suppression when they appeared in court.   The media regularly report on court hearings and the media are the public’s eyes and ears while reporting on hearings that any member of the public could attend.

It said that the focus on the women’s occupation was not salacious – it recognised that sex work presents an elevated exposure risk due to the close physical contact with clients. They were not the first sex workers to be charged with breaching the order by travelling outside Auckland and the prior cases had also been reported.

It pointed out that Principle 2 clearly states that the right of privacy should not interfere with publication of significant matters of public interest. Those who flout Covid health orders pose a demonstrable risk to public safety and measures designed to protect the population from a pandemic.

The Herald also said it had not breached Principle 7 (discrimination and diversity) as it did not apply to sex workers.

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 order 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 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 Herald story pending a final decision.

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