Journalism Professor Explains Different Countries’ Crime-Coverage

By Rahat Hossen

On March 28 the Pedas Center presented “The Press and The Prep walk” by Duquesne University journalism professor Maggie Jones Patterson. She explained how journalists cover crime reports in North America and Europe differently.

Disseminating photos of arrestees through news media is illegal in France. In 2011, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund and likely candidate for president of France, was arrested in New York City and photos of him in handcuffs went viral. Therefore, many people in France saw the photos who otherwise never would have seen them.

Patterson and her research colleague, Romayne Smith Fullerton of the University of Western Ontario, traveled in the United States, Canada and many Western European countries to talk with reporters, editors, journalists’ union leaders, prominent journalism professors and others to research how other nations cover news about crime and arrestees.

Many countries in Western Europe like Sweden the criminal justice system doesn’t allow journalists to use arrestees’ names or photos or any other evidence in any news stories. Criminal justice systems try to help arrestees so that they can rejoin their families and society even after they serve prison sentences. Those societies protect criminals’ information to protect the criminals’ families, especially their children, from embarrassment, ridicule and other public reactions.

She explained that three models came from their findings. The first is the watchdogs, which is mostly in Canada, United States, England and Ireland where journalists always keep their eyes on what is going on and is based on not trusting the government. The second is the protectors, which is mostly in Sweden, Netherlands and Germany, where the criminal justice systems try to protect arrestees and their families’ privacy as much as possible. The third is the ambivalent, which is mostly in Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where the official policy is protecting the privacy of arrestees and their families, but that information often gets out anyway, usually because of police leaks to news media.

Different reporting practices reflect different ethical values of each country, Patterson said. In fact, one of their conclusions is, “The way journalists cover crime measures not only nation’s attitudes toward law-breaking and deviance, but also its underlying beliefs about the definition and value of a “free press” of the term “public,” and of the concept, “the public right to know.”

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