Why media should conceal suspects

The call by the State Minister for Gender and Culture that media houses should expose identities of suspects of defilement, sodomy, and rape, is outright unlawful. Ms Rukia Nakadama says concealing by media houses of identities of suspects identified or reported by the victims hampers the fight against such serious crimes. She argues disclosure would warn the public to keep off such suspects. To the contrary, Nakadama’s call risks triggering mob justice against suspects endangering their innocence and security.
So the minister’s call contravenes the supreme law of the land and should be disregarded by media houses. First, Nakadama should know Article 28(3) (a) of the 1995 Constitution provides that all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty. As such, suspects are not criminals. Also, it is important to note that anyone and everyone is a potential suspect.
Moreover, by revealing the identity of a suspect, a media house will inevitably expose the suspect to hatred, ridicule or contempt, or cause them to be shunned in the estimation of right-thinking members of society. This amounts to defaming the suspect, which in turn exposes such a media house to libel or suits when such suspects are cleared by the courts. This is especially true in instances where suspects are allowed to go scot free without being charged. In such cases, it would be impossible to undo the injury caused to their reputation by the initial publication. In fact, rarely do media houses report that a suspect has not been charged of any offence.
Worse, sounding such hasty alarms risk endangering the safety of suspects because an enraged public could easily lynch them.
Above all, journalists and by extension media houses, have a duty not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information as spelt out in Clause 2(1) of the professional code of ethics for journalists and editors. The likelihood of contravening this duty becomes high when journalists disclose identities of suspects except in cases where they can ably verify the information published.
Nakadama’s proposal that the recent case of a maid caught on video battering a toddler should have been revealed is dangerous. This would have exposed the maid to an enraged public and likely subjected to mob justice. Even if this suspect was pictured to have tortured the toddler, there is no justification for media houses to publish her image and simply say she is guilty without proof by court.
Ultimately, the only ideal time of exposing identities of suspects is when they have been charged and have taken plea in court. That way the media can report the proceedings which are privileged without compromising innocence and security of suspects.

The issue: Protecting suspects
Our view: The only ideal time of exposing identities of suspects is when they have been charged and have taken plea in court.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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