What’s the Responsibility of the Local Press when it comes to Handling Arrest Information?

INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY BUT HERE’S THEIR PICTURE ANYWAY…About half the time that I open up http://libertyville.patch.com to see the goings on in our community of Libertyville, I see the front page displaying the Police Blotter from the last day or two. Not once every 7 days or so but 3 times a week or so. Of course, the section includes a caption reminding readers that an arrest does not constitute a finding of guilt – only a court of law can make that decision.

After seeing this trend continue week after week, I wonder if that is how Patch.com readers answered their surveys on key subjects they want covered through hyper-local journalism.

When I read the http://www.Chicagotribune.com, it doesn’t take me long to locate a section called Mugs in the News. Even a reader without any imagination knows what that represents. It’s interesting that Mugs in the News is considerably easier to locate online as opposed to the printed news. Is that a coincidence? Is this revenue driven? In fact, I used to read the print version of this famous Chicago newspaper years ago and rarely noticed pictures of individuals who were arrested pre-adjudication.

Mugs in the News

Mugs in the News

To avoid any guilt or blame on the hands of Chicago’s largest newspaper, a caption above those arrest pictures reads these booking photos are provided by law enforcement officials. In other words, the news corporation doesn’t take the pics, they just publicize them.

The same caption from http://www.Chicagotribune.com says that an arrest doesn’t imply guilt and criminal charges are merely accusations and yet the Tribune does not appear to hesitate when publishing their photos. They go on to say that a defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty and convicted – hopefully lady luck is on your side – even if your case is fairly adjudicated and you are found innocent doesn’t always align in the court of online readers or public opinion.

There are other local papers such as the Chicago Sun Times, Daily Herald and Libertyville Review who provide the same service to readers but again, the right way to handle those who haven’t experienced the American Legal system. Whether it’s someone’s name or photo, these individuals have not been convicted of a crime. They may not ultimately be innocent but that’s why we have a court of law. Why not wait until they have their day in court for a judge or jury to decide their guilt or innocence?

I’m not condoning the idea of coddling criminals, if someone commits a crime and is found guilty of that crime or a lesser offense, they need to be held responsible for their actions. Having said that, publishing the names of individuals who were arrested for violating traffic laws or arrested for committing a felony or misdemeanors should allow the criminal justice system adjudicate their case before their names or photos are made public. If any of these individuals are found guilty of a DUI or a burglary, then and only then should this information be produced for public consumption. 

AFTER IT’S ADJUDICATED, WHERE ART THOU MEDIA? Many online and print media are so quick to publish someone’s name who just was arrested – in many places, it’s called an Arrest Report, Police Beat or Police Blotter. I have my own misgivings about this model, however, I won’t focus on that. The media, especially the online media is so quick to publish their names for those who were busted by the police although some readers who ask a lot of questions would like to know what is done through the criminal justice system? Do they plea bargain? Go to trial by judge or jury to hear the case? If they can’t afford an attorney, will the public defender have any time or resources to support them in any way? Or, if the case is dropped due to lack of evidence or less chance that there’s a conviction for this case, what then? When this adjudication happens, will their name appear in the newspaper? If their name is cleared, will Mr. Newspaper publish the results? If not, why not? Why won’t the online and print media do the right thing and provide closure on what happens to those who were originally arrested and found their name besmirched without a trail and due process?

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