Policy of naming juvenile suspects challenged

September 26, 2013

The Sept. 20 edition of the Cape Gazette led off on page one with a report on a court hearing concerning a kidnapping case that named three criminal suspects, juveniles, ages 17, 15 and 14. In addition to naming the three juveniles, the story included a photo of the 14-year-old. Furthermore, the last 14 paragraphs were devoted to a psychiatrist’s detailed and heart rendering description of the 14-year-old's totally failed family and overwhelming challenges.

This naming of juvenile suspects is not an exception, as the Cape Gazette has done this in the past. I find this practice highly objectionable and inconsistent with responsible journalism, exposing highly vulnerable children to undue and potentially harsh public notoriety.

In the U.S., the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics includes the following admonitions:

Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.

Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.

Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges

While the code does not specify an age, all of us with a 14-year-old child or grandchild would be justifiable outraged if this story named, showed the photo and gave a psychiatric report on our offspring. As the Cape Gazette knew quite well, the 14-year-old in question has no family to get outraged and protect her!

I fervently hope the Cape Gazette would change its policies, and be more judicious and exercise compassion as called for in the code of ethics. In the future, I ask that the Gazette not name juvenile suspects or convicted juveniles below the age of 18, and certainly not publish their photos or their psychiatric case histories. Not naming those under 18 would be consistent with the policies of first rank (non-tabloid) newspapers.

If their current policy upsets you, please let the Gazette know how you feel!

William OConnor

Editor's note: These juveniles are charged with felonies; the question now at hand is whether to move their cases to juvenile court, not whether to move them out. These articles very clearly raise the issue of who is raising these kids and clearly demonstrate that families and schools have failed them. Who would be served by not covering this? The parents? The articles have raised awareness of kids among us who have no guidance, no ability to feel empathy and no understanding of the results of their actions. This is a major issue, and not covering it because they are juveniles would not serve anyone.

The CapeGazette follows the U.S. Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics.  We have shown compassion; we have been cautious about identifying them and waited for the police report when they were arrested and named and we did not name anyone until formal charges were filed.


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