Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Media Responsibility

My Canadian readers are doubtlessly aware of the Robert Pickton trial beginning in Vancouver. If you are not aware of this case, suffice it to say it's a gruesome story of many murders.

The media have already been reporting on the case as it has come to trial. As it continues, there will be more and more coverage and most of it unsuitable for children's eyes and ears, let alone adults.

This morning in the National Post, where the Pickton trial was on the front page, Douglas Kelly, the Editor-in-chief, wrote a "Note to Readers" wherein he explained some of the rationale behind their reporting about the trial. He encourages readers to write to their editorial staff (see the story for details) to express their opinions about how the National Post and other media should report about this trial.

Don't get me wrong. I believe that Robert Pickton should come to trial and I hope that he is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But I question whether the average Canadian (and American - apparently the international media is picking up on this story) needs to know more than the fact the trial is going on, the basic outline of the case and the eventual outcome. The Post did a series last week on the victims in this case; it was heartbreaking but it wasn't inappropriate. Reading or hearing details of how they died and were buried is inappropriate, especially when it is presented in a setting where the reader or hearer has no choice but to read or hear it, short of closing the paper or turning off the radio or TV. We do not need to wallow in salacious details!

If you read the Post even occasionally or if you read other newspapers, I would encourage you to express your opinion about the way the media covers stories like this. When we are in the car, we often turn off the news on the radio as many of the stories are unfit for our children to hear. It's not that they don't know that murders and other crimes take place in the world. They are very aware of it. But we don't feel it's healthy to dwell on all the details, especially at a tender age, and probably not at any age.

We also don't feel that removing the newspaper from our home is an answer. I am pleased that my older children like to read the paper and I encourage them to do so. But it's hard to avoid some of the gratuitous details, even on a quick scan of the headlines.

Mr. Kelly states that

Material that we think is not suitable for publication in the newspaper
will appear in full on our Web site, www.nationalpost.com. The rationale is that
reading on the web involves a conscious decision to read the story because of
the need to first click on the headline.

I fully agree with the option of having the material published on the web. I think that this is a sensitive and appropriate way to handle this dilemma.

As conservatives, we often complain about the way that the mainstream media reports the news. But I think we often don't communicate to the media exactly why it is inappropriate. This is an opportunity to do so, if you feel strongly about the subject.

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