Naming names poses tough dilemma

At the Fort Frances Times, we feel as if we have shaken a hornet’s nest this past week. And we are being stung by the fallout.
Our reporters and editor are taking the brunt of the criticism. They find themselves caught in a bind.
We find ourselves wrong if we publish the names or information about a crime, and we find ourselves in the wrong if we don’t publish information about individuals or a crime.
Every newspaper grapples with naming names when it comes to breaking the law.
When a person is charged, they are accused of some crime. At that moment, in the eyes of the court, they are still presumed innocent. At that point, the charges have not been proved in court and they are not guilty until the outcome of the case is decided.
Unfortunately, the public often believes that if someone is charged, they automatically are guilty.
For people to believe that justice occurs, they have to see the outcomes of cases. However, it seems the general public likes to be voyeurs into the lives of people who run afoul of the law.
When we name a suspect, the Times feels it has an ethic and moral responsibility to follow the case through to its outcome. That means every time the accused appears in court, we are there, too.
Eventually, several outcomes may happen. The charges may be dropped or changed. The accused may be found guilty or not guilty, or the accused may be found guilty of a lesser charge.
Even when someone is found guilty and sentenced, we have a responsibility to follow through any appeals process that may take place.
It is a large burden on the newspaper, and really requires having a full-time person attend the courthouse every day of the week. Small newspapers, such as the Times and Rainy River Record, do not have the staffing numbers or budget to have a person in the court every court day of the year.
Very few large dailies in Canada follow the day-to-day court proceedings in Canada.
We do, from time to time, publish names of individuals in cases we deem to be of public interest. And in doing that, we are criticized for embarrassing the person and their family.
Similarly, in not publishing names, we are accused of covering up for the accused and denying the public access to information about that person.
At one time, the newspaper used to publish the decisions of the court each week. But we often discovered that in providing the conviction, the published names were identical to other individuals in the community.
Needless to say, that caused problems for the innocent person.
We expanded that to include their ages—and even that produced problems. And then we included their household addresses, only to find out they had moved over the course of their case and that, too, was incorrect.
We also discovered that persons could plead guilty and submit their fines through the mail, and their names never appeared in the court proceedings. The only persons whose names were found in the weekly report were those who contested the charge.
We and the courts eventually became exasperated at the number of corrections that had to be made each week.
The court’s solution was for the newspaper to have a person in the court all the time. Our decision was to reduce our court coverage.
If you, as an individual, want to know more about crimes and the individuals who are charged across Rainy River district, we encourage you to spend your days at the courthouse.
In the meantime, there’s a simple way to guarantee your name won’t appear in the paper: don’t break the law.

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