On Oct.13, the Independent editor responded to a letter, stating that “We believe there is a strong justification in letting the public know of cases involving drug abuse in the community.”
In the same issue, the Independent chose to publish the name of another well-known citizen who pled guilty to assaulting his wife. No doubt with the election so close, this was also justifiable in the public interest. While I do not condone the actions of these people, I also do not believe that the media has the right or responsibility to determine their fate.
While, there are many arguments to be made in favour of, as well as in opposition to, the publishing of names, I would like to think that our community would be more compassionate particularly towards the victims in these situations. Publication in both of these cases involved identification of their immediate families; parents, spouse and children. In neither case do I believe that the community was threatened!
Publication of names is a huge step backwards for all those groups who provide support and assistance to battered women, children, men or seniors, drug and alcohol addicts and those who suffer from mental illnesses. How many of these victims will hesitate going to the police, ADAC, social services, women’s shelters etc. knowing that if charges are pressed that the names of their families may be public? Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon are successful due to their anonymity; an essential element for those who seek help.
Is it time to rethink the publication of names in our local paper? In each case, the public good should be weighed against the potential harm to those involved and, perhaps more so, to those who are victimized and who will now remain victimized for fear of being identified.
While we are mindful of the sensitivities in the community, being a newspaper (and not a newsletter), we must remain true to the fundamental principles of journalism.
Those principles dictate that newspapers are just as much responsible to report the negative and unpleasant as to tell the story of positive and pleasant, whenever there is news value.