SUSAN DEVONSHIRE AGAINST THE NELSON MAIL
Case Number: 3410
Council Meeting: 26 JUNE 2023
Decision: Not Upheld
Publication: Nelson Mail
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Discrimination and Diversity
- In March 2023, the Nelson Mail published articles about an unsolved murder. Susan Devonshire complained that naming a murder suspect was unfair, possibly discriminatory, and might affect the person’s right to a fair trial if he was subsequently charged. The complaint was considered under Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Principle (2) Privacy and Principle (7) Discrimination and Diversity. The complaint is not upheld.
- On 8 March 2023, the Nelson Mail published articles about the unsolved murder of an apple orchard worker Simon Bevers, and said the police were offering a $100,000 reward for information about the case.
- On 10 March 2023, the paper published a follow-up story naming a suspect in the killing, Filipo Mapusaga. Blood from Mr Bevers had been found on the arm of Mr Mapusaga’s jacket, the story said. Mr Mapusaga was interviewed by Stuff from his home in Samoa, and denied any involvement in the killing, saying he did not know how blood got on his jacket. The story also reported that Mr Mapusaga had not returned to New Zealand for the apple season and that he had failed a drug test after someone had alerted management that he had been smoking cannabis.
- Susan Devonshire complained that it was a breach of privacy to publish Mr Mapusaga’s name. She asked if a Pākehā suspect would have been exposed in the same way. “Is there an element of racism in this matter?” she asked.
- Publicity of this nature could affect his right to a fair trial should the case come to court, she said, expressing concern that the photographs of Mr Mapusaga, the jacket and information about his current location must have come from the police. She asked if he was offered legal advice before the interview. In her final comment, Ms Devonshire said she had always understood there was an assumption of innocence until a person is proven guilty. “These newspaper articles do not appear to support such a premise.”
- Stuff said it had considered the complaints against Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Principle (2) Privacy, and Principle (7) Discrimination and Diversity.
- Considering Principle (2) Stuff said that the Principle stated that “the right of privacy should not interfere with publication of significant matters of public record or public interest” and reporting on a murder, the most serious of crimes, was of significant public interest.
- Media outlets routinely identified suspects before they were charged, Stuff said, listing five cases where this had occurred. It was standard practice to name suspects in high profile cases unless there was a compelling reason not to.
- In the cases quoted, people of a range of ethnicities were identified, and Mr Mapusaga’s ethnicity was not factored into the decision to publish, therefore there was no breach of Principle (7). Stuff noted that he had been approached for comment and was willing to speak to the reporter.
- When considering Principle (1), Stuff asked whether it was fair to name Mr Mapusaga. Stuff said it routinely took legal advice on decisions about naming suspects before a criminal trial to ensure reporting did not influence any upcoming criminal trial, and did so in this case. Sub judice issues only applied when a person was arrested, charged or charges were imminent and this was not the case in this matter.
- Stuff said they found Mr Mapusaga by “old-fashioned reporting”. He was tracked down by phone calls and social media and was not coerced to speak. It was not Stuff’s responsibility to determine if he should receive legal advice before an interview.
- The Media Council agrees with Stuff that there is significant public interest in an unsolved murder and that, as set out in Principle (2), this overrides any right Mr Mapusaga had to privacy. The Council is satisfied that in murder cases of significant public interest, it is commonplace to name suspects and generally this does not breach any principles. Without an exhaustive study of the ethnicity of suspects who have been named, which is beyond the resources of the Media Council, we cannot say with certainty whether a non-Pākehā individual is more likely to be identified. But on the face of it, Stuff’s list of similar cases, which appears to include Pākehā suspects, is reassuring. There is no breach of Principle (7) Discrimination and Diversity.
- On the matter of fairness, Mr Mapusaga appears to have agreed to be interviewed, and his denial of any involvement in the murder was reported fully, meeting the requirements of Principle (1). It was not Stuff’s job to decide if he needed legal advice. Matters of sub judice do not apply because there was no matter before the court. Principle (1) was not breached.
- The complaint is not upheld under Principles (1), (2) or (7).
Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Hank Schouten, Rosemary Barraclough, Tim Watkin, Jonathan Mackenzie, Jo Cribb, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom, Reina Vaai, Richard Pamatatau.