A complaint to the New Zealand Press Council by Walter Freitag against the National Business Review (NBR) for publishing the name of the police officer who fatally shot a male person in the Waitara area in the early hours on 30 April, has not been upheld.

The basic facts are well known and not in dispute. There was a disturbance in the township in the early hours by a male that caused a police officer to open fire on him and as a result he died. Such an event was a major news item in all media.

The officer made application to the High Court to prevent any publication of his name. The application was heard by a Full Court of two High Court judges and declined on 5 May 2000. The basic reason for the decision was that there were no grounds in law for an order preventing publication.

On 12 May 2000 the NBR published the name of the officer who was responsible for the fatal shooting. Undoubtedly there existed up to this point a convention that in similar circumstances to the Waitara shooting the name of the police officer would not have been published. The convention, even after the publication by NBR, was largely adhered to. Notwithstanding the High Court decision a senior police officer met with some media representatives and made a special plea for non-publication. The ultimate fate of the police investigation into the shooting was unknown at that point.

The decision by the NBR to publish the name of the officer was itself quite extensively debated in the media.

The complainant Mr Freitag comes to the Council in the capacity of a concerned member of the public. He bases his complaint in essence on the grounds that the officer in question had not at that point been charged with any wrongdoing and that publication was neither in the public interest, nor of the police in their duty to protect the public. The NBR accepted none of those propositions and replied that it was in the public interest for it to be informed fully on the activities of a public official performing his public duties. It also relied on the freedom of the press.

The Council declined to uphold Mr Freitag's complaint although it appreciated that his motives for laying the complaint were beyond reproach. The Press Council cannot ignore that the freedom to publish the name has been conclusively decided by a Full Court. Moreover, even if there did exist a convention in the past that in similar circumstances publication of name was withheld, it appears no longer to have general acceptance.

The complaint is not upheld.


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