After his (first) day in court to answer charges that he broke a court order for name suppression, the Busted Blonde wonders whether Cameron Slater (aka the-blogger-known-as-Whale-Oil) is Hero or Dork?
A few others will no doubt be asking themselves that same question, especially after his cogent ‘to-camera’ before heading into court this morning to seek an adjournment until he can enlist legal support for his defence.
Fact is, Whale might be all the things people say about him but, just like Larry Flynt who defended free speech through the American courts, on this issue Whale is fighting the good fight.
What he did on his blog, for which he’s being prosecuted, was to hint about the names of two low-lifes who were then before the courts; two low-lifes who were yet to be proven guilty, it’s true, but who were given name suppression solely on the basis of their “celebrity”—and whose names are still suppressed even now their guilt has been decided.
I say that’s not good enough. I say that justice must be seen to be done. In fact, I’ve said just that before:
“In recent years New Zealand's courts have admitted TV cameras, for which our justices have patted themselves on the back for their “openness,” but at the same time they’ve more and more frequently enforced orders suppressing information about what's going on inside those courts. Justice may be being done inside our courts (though reports suggests serious doubts on that score) but we can’t see that it’s being done. We can see pictures, but we're frequently not allowed to know who's on trial, and what the evidence against them is.
“Like a patronising parent protecting innocent children we’re given picture but no sound. We're being treated like children, with no justification for it.
“Are we really that immature? Name suppression, evidence suppression – in recent years the media has been gagged from reporting important details that would help we the people to judge for ourselves whether justice is being done in the courts assembled in our names.
“I've argued before that ‘It's unfortunate that our courts seem to have forgotten the crucial principle that underpins their work: that justice must not only be done must must be seen to be done. When justice is kept under wraps, all sorts of nonsense appears in the vacuum instead ... Why do the courts consider us so immature that we can't handle hearing the evidence for ourselves in media reports, instead of hearing only the nonsense that its absence has generated?’
“Talking about suppression orders issued over the Emma Agnew murder back in 2007, Stephen Franks quite properly slammed this ‘recent fad to elevate privacy and possible embarrassment over substantive justice’:
“The law around pre-trial contempt of court (and sub judice) is based on the theory that the risk of biasing judges and juries outweighs freedom of speech, including open disclosure of what is known and obtainable by insiders, or those determined to find out.
“I am not aware of any balance of evidence to support [this] fear... Indeed the attempt to treat juries like computers, cleansed of any pre-knowledge, and sheltered by evidence exclusion rules from anything a judge patronisingly considers prejudicial, turns upside down the original justification for a jury of your peers.”
“When ‘justice’ comes complete with gagging orders, then justice is neither being done nor seen to be done. It's time to urgently reconsider their popularity.”
UPDATE 1: If you’re still undecided on the ‘Hero or Dork?’ question, then it’s time to forget personalities and start thinking in principles. Defending a poor bastard jailed in Finland for two years and four months on nine counts of "gross defamation, inciting ethnic hatred and inciting religious hatred" blogger Baron Bodissey put the relevant argument:
“As was pointed out by several commenters at the time, Mr. Lehto is not the most appealing poster child for freedom of expression.
“Unfortunately, one can’t choose only the most noble and upstanding people as defendants in civil liberties cases. When it comes to the suppression of free speech, authorities are more likely to pick off the stragglers — the unpopular, unpleasant, and unattractive media personalities who inhabit the fringes of public discourse.”
So if you’re “not impressed by this” or just think “this is actually attention seeking and it's not actually that productive,” then may I suggest you think things through more thoroughly. And harden up.