Media urged to be more cautious when covering crime scenes
May 17, 2013

Media urged to be more cautious when covering crime scenes

Reporters have been asked to be more cautious about how they go about reporting on crime scene matters.{{more}}

This call was made by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Colin Williams at the launch of two documents, as part of World Press Freedom Day recently.

The DPP said that he has seen a growing practice, which he suspects is, to some extent, driven by the competition that the established media faces from non-traditional media, where the principles or ideals, in terms of what is to be done or could reasonably be done, … is being pushed further.

“The feeling is like, oh, let’s go on the scene, let’s interview persons…,” the DPP said.

According to Williams, most of what is being reported in the media is done even before the investigation is completed.

He added that there is a difference between reporting or getting a response or reaction from persons who are victims or relatives, as to the effect or impact.

“On one hand, that is fair, but when we are going into a situation of getting persons to describe and detail what has transpired and even speculate, we are really stepping over a border…”

Also on hand at the launch was Dan Suter, criminal justice advisor to the Eastern Caribbean.

According to Suter, journalists “have to be extremely careful”, stating that it is tantamount to trampling over potentially a crime scene, if the reporter ventures into too much detail.

“Equally, [they should] have the overarching feeling in terms of, am I prejudicing a fair trial or am I equipping the defence with more information than they need to have,” Suter said.

In addition, Suter said, “undoubtedly” the defence will use the newspaper report if there are any inaccuracies.

“Are you being fair to the victim and witness by asking them questions? I think there is an obligation on the part of the police to say, if you are contacted by the media then, you are not under obligation to speak.

“It is their own free will if they do want to speak to you (media), but I think equally you have a responsibility that you could be creating unfairness when the credibility or reliability of that witness is something to be tested by the court and not by the public at large before the trial has been heard…,” Suter continued.

The DPP said that action can be taken in those matters which amount to obstruction. However, he said, there are other ways to resolve an issue, such as cautions or correspondence to the particular media house informing them to “keep things in the acceptable boundaries”.(KW)