A superior court justice’s decision to refer to the man convicted in the Toronto van attacks as “John Doe” has sparked a public conversation about naming perpetrators in the media. with There are those advocating for ‘tell-all’ on one side and those arguing the importance of denying the attacker the infamy he said he wanted on the other.
Romayne Smith Fullerton, associate professor in Western’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies, is available for comment on why and how journalists cover crime in Canada.
Smith Fullerton says:
“In Canada, we come from a history where we don’t trust authority and where it’s the job of our media to keep a watchdog eye on institutions, like the justice system, to make sure that justice is not only done, but seen to be done. There is a defence for naming convicted persons, but it’s that the information is in the public interest. That at present is not part of the conversation.”
Smith Fullerton is co-author of the new book Murder in Our Midst: Comparing Crime Coverage Ethics in an Age of Globalized News, which outlines differing practices of naming accused and convicted persons in a selection of democracies around the world. ”
“We are doing a poor job of explaining to citizens why we make the decisions we do, and I think many folks can be forgiven for thinking that running columns or stories that show photos of the killer and using his name in the story lead are insensitive to the victims of that attack,” said Smith Fullerton. “It’s time we in Canada had a discussion about how journalists cover crime. I would argue that journalists’ choices about whether, when and how to name reflect deeply held cultural beliefs about what constitutes concepts like justice.”
In The Netherlands, as Smith Fullerton cites for example, journalists routinely do not name persons accused.
“While their reasons for shielding names are very different from those advocated by Justice Anne Molloy, they offer us a comparison for a nuanced discussion about why and how we cover crime as we do,” said Smith Fullerton.
Commentary reflects the perspective and scholarly interest of Western faculty members and is not an articulation of official university policy on issues being addressed.
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