The Newspaper Society has come down firmly against proposals that could see coroners being given new powers to impose reporting restrictions on the media.
In a submission to the Department of Constitutional Affairs, the Newspaper Society strongly opposes the proposed new powers which would allow coroners to exclude the press and public from the coroners’ courts, give coroners the powers of entry search and seizure without any protection for confidential journalistic material and impose name bans on those involved in inquests.
The Newspaper Society claims that the new powers would not only restrict news reports but could outlaw death and funeral notices, tributes and even tombstones bearing the deceased’s name.
The submission by Santha Rasaiah, the Newspaper Society’s political, editorial and regulatory affairs director, states: “As currently drafted the senior coroner acquires the power to ban any publication by anyone in any context of the name or anything that might lead to the identification of the deceased, their partner, immediate relatives and long standing friends, above and beyond anything to do with the deceased’s life connected with the manner or fact of his or her death.
“This new power would not just severely curtail local newspapers’ reports of coroners’ investigations and inquests or other matters directly controlled by the coroner. It could outlaw publication of death notices, in memoriam tributes and notifications of funeral services in local newspapers, the erection of a tombstone bearing the deceased’s name and even the entry upon the death register.”
The NS also argues that the new powers could severely curtail any news report of the death or follow up stories about important issues and matters of public interest.
“The clause as drafted also gives the senior coroner power to make blanket bans on any publication of the names or other identifying material of the deceased’s entire immediate family and associates. This means that the senior coroner could prohibit any publication which named or otherwise led to the identification of the deceased’s partner, close family and old friends, even if the particular publication had no connection whatsoever to the deceased or the coroner’s investigation, inquest or other work connected with the death of the deceased. This is absurd and a wholly unjustifiable restraint upon freedom of expression.”