Going by Journalism ethics, practitioners know that we, the public, want to know what’s happening particularly in high-profile court cases. In fact, we follow the news assiduously to learn about the latest developments.
Journalists report these cases, but they have a responsibility to do so in an Accurate, Balanced and Complete way. This is the forms the basis for journalism ethics. However, legal requirements limit the extent to which they can do this. Let me give you some examples.
Court reporting is always a difficult area. Journalists can report what happens in open court before the jury. The public could not all sit in court and listen to the proceedings. The journalist’s job is to let their readers, viewers or listeners know what happened in that room. They cannot report anything that happens in the absence of a jury. This ranges from a case of inadmissible evidence to other discussions in their absence.
In Ireland, if a jury finds a man guilty of rape, a journalist may not identify the perpetrator unless the victim chooses to waive his or her anonymity. The identification of the rapist, which interests the public the most, might also lead to the identification of the victim – and that would be wrong. The victim needed great courage to take the case in the first place and to face their perpetrator in courts. It would be wrong – legally and morally – if journalists identified the victim . The protection of the victim also gives a certain protection to the rapist (the protection of public anonymity). However, the victim walks free from court having received justice, the rapist goes to jail.
Similarly, someone convicted of a crime, who is under 18 years of age, may not be identified because they are a minor. An adult who has been found guilty of committing a robbery, for example, may be named but a minor may not. The thinking, I presume, is that the adult is fully responsible for their deeds – but you cannot put an old head on young shoulders.
The of Journalism Ethics
The law also protects journalists’ good names. Taking someone’s good name or character, whether verbally, visually or in print, is an offence and the person may sue you and the media outlet you are working for. The juxtaposition of your photograph beside an article about burglaries, for example, may give you grounds to sue – even if the caption on the photograph said that you had just won the ‘Dad of the Year’ award in your local community. People might see the photograph of you, and the article beside it about burglars, and draw the wrong conclusion.
Journalists must balance these legal requirements at all times – no matter what type of story they are covering. Next time you hear a report of a court case, spare a thought for the reporter. They put a lot of work into structuring the information for the public in line with journalism ethics.
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