The efforts of our sister paper, The Penticton Western News, to lift a publication ban on the name of an accused sex offender raised some interesting questions and thoughts in the office this week.
The Western News was one of two outlets that pushed back against a court-ordered ban on the publication of the full name of the accused, who is charged with sexual interference of a minor, invitation to sexual touching with a minor, two counts of sexual exploitation and one count of sexual assault.
Media argued barring the publication of the full name would diminish both freedom of expression and the open court principle, as well as the public’s right to know who in their community has been accused of these crimes.
The Western noted in particular that accusations of this nature, whether grounded in reality or not, are distressing for a community, and identifying the accused can help alleviate some of that stress.
The crown, the defense and eventually the judge disagreed.
Victims under the age of majority are automatically covered by a publication ban that would extend to any information that could lead to the identity of the victim.
Concerns were raised that because the alleged crimes took place in a small town in the South Okanagan they could lead to the identity of the alleged victim, despite the lack of a familial connection with the accused.
The trial proceeds this week.
It is always surprising how ill-informed the general public can be about how the courts work and how court news gets reported.
And yes, it is usually more gut wrenching for people in a small town, regardless of the crime.
The Spotlight covers Princeton circuit court once a month.
We meet a lot of people there. Some are victims, and others are facing charges. The general consensus seems to be that nobody wants his or her name in the paper.
It’s quite usual for someone who has just pleaded guilty to assault or theft to step outside the courtroom, point a finger and say: I don’t want this in the paper.
Well of course you don’t. Only an idiot would want what just happened in there, in the paper.
However a good deal of what transpires in court is news, and news gets reported. It’s just the way it works.
Some people simply offer direction that we are not going to take.
Others are more insistent. They talk about how their families will be hurt and explain how they could lose their job or their home.
And sometimes it’s impossible to not feel empathy.
You don’t HAVE to write about it, they say. You COULD leave it out if you wanted to.
And that simply isn’t true.
Every person and every case gets put through the same news process and the headlines fall where they may.
It’s nothing personal and it never, never can be.
There are some users of the court system that we don’t have sympathy for and those are the ones who badger, call the office repeatedly, and even threaten.
One individual said he would make us “suffer” if his name was in the paper.
He said that would be the reason he wouldn’t get hired at the mine.
This, of course, was not a person the mine would hire in a millennium, no matter what the newspaper printed about him. But that’s not the point.
What’s the point?
The point is newspapers do an important job when they cover court.
And if you find yourself standing in front of a judge for any reason, you might just be a part of that.
– AD, with files from The Penticton Western