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Fairfax Pleads Guilty To Breaching TAIC Act

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Fairfax Pleads Guilty To Breaching TAIC Act

Wellington, Nov 3 NZPA - The Dominion Post has admitted it broke the law by publishing a story about Maritime New Zealand's failures in a near-catastrophic shipping accident, based on a draft Transport Accident Investigation Commission report.

In Wellington District Court today, the newspaper's parent company Fairfax New Zealand Ltd pleaded guilty to a single charge of breaching the Transport Accident Investigation Commission Act.

The Dominion Post ran a story on March 28 about the near-capsize of cargo ship Taharoa Express off Cape Egmont, Taranaki in June 2007, based on the commission's draft report.

A covering letter attached to the report stated it had been provided in confidence, and "further disclosure of the preliminary report is restricted, and there is an offence for illegitimate disclosure", along with a footer which said any breach of that confidence may result in legal action being taken by the commission.

Once the commission became aware the newspaper planned to publish information from the draft report, it contacted The Dominion Post's editor by phone and by post to advise it could be committing an offence.

The Dominion Post followed its initial front page story with a second article on March 30, and a third article and an editorial on April 7.

The commission's lawyer Dale La Hood told Judge John Walker today the stories had prejudiced interested parties who intended to make submissions on the draft report, who were "in the process of sensitive discussions" with the commission.

The purpose of confidentiality in the draft report was to allow interested parties to respond to comments and allegations, and could have seriously undermined the commission's ability to obtain evidence about the incident.

He said The Dominion Post's offending "was both deliberate and premeditated".

He asked that the newspaper be fined near the maximum for the offence, which was $25,000, with a discount for its early plea.

Fairfax New Zealand's lawyer Robert Stewart told Judge Walker the newspaper's regular lawyer had been unable to provide advice before the story went to print due to a conflict of interest.

Another lawyer had advised that it would not be a breach of confidence to print the story, and The Dominion Post proceeded on this advice, he said.

Despite this, the newspaper fully accepted its decision to publish information from the draft report, he said.

He asked that the judge impose a fine in the mid-range of that possible under the Act, with a discount for the early plea.

Judge Walker reserved his decision, ahead of the parties making inquiries about similar cases in other jurisdictions before the end of the week.


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