The West Ender
Thursday, September 25, 1997


p. 11.

Rush to judgement is dangerous

To me, Guy Bennett's Sept. 18 column ("Suspicions leave a nagging doubt"), in which he tells of a man he'd met who matched the composite drawing of the "Abbotsford Killer," gives a good reason why the public -- and especially the media -- should not rush to judgement as to the guilt or innocence of an accused.

Terry Driver is the man now formally accused of being the "Abbotsford Killer," who brutally slayed Tanya Smith and attempted to murder her friend.

In Driver's case, he was jailed right after being charged last year and has remained behind bars ever since; and, therefore, the public -- who were immediately informed by the media as to the accused identity -- would not have been endangered by their not knowing his name. And with cases in which the accused is to be released on bail, there are other methods (eg. electronic monitoring) of reducing or eliminating any such risk to the public -- give the accused an option: either be monitored or have your name ruined via media identification.

The Vancouver firefighter, Phillip Grassi, acquitted in August of attempting to buy sex from a prostitute, is another excellent reason why the media should change their standard policy of publishing the identity of people accused of crimes, often long before the accused have been tried and convicted or acquitted by a court of law.

And, the fact is, whether or not the accused are found guilty, their names can remain blemished and their lives may be left in an irreversible mess, as is apparently that of Grassi.

Considering that having the accused's name publicly connected to serious crimes can so easily devastate their reputations and lives, are not the media, in essence, punishing the accused before he is found guilty?

One of the countless examples of this media policy in practice is that of Richard Jewell, the man who was accused of, but not charged with, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta during the last Olympic Games. According to Barbara Jewell, Richard's mother, the media coverage of her son and the crime has left their lives in shambles: "He's already been convicted in the court of public opinion."

But sadly it seems that many good names must be smeared and lives ruined -- in essence, sacrificed -- for the sake of "the public's right to know."

-- Frank G. Sterle

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Created: October 7, 1997
Last modified: October 7, 1997

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