(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 15 May 2011)
There are times when in writing this column I have had an exchange of
words with my editors concerning the naming of names concerning
perpetrators of crimes. I have to admit that I do not understand the concept of protecting
criminals, but that seems to be the norm in Guyanese journalism.
I was taught that anything that was a matter of public record could and
should be included in the news to keep the public informed. The only times when there is an exception made to this rule is to
protect victims (particularly in the case of sexual aggression) or a
child under the age of 18. All other information belongs to the public.
For example, I wrote a column on December 08, 2010, about a Chief
Medical Officer accused of domestic violence against his wife. The
incident was a matter of public record as the police were involved in
the report, but the man’s name was taken out of my column.
I respect my editors’ opinion on this issue, although I do not agree
with the premise that everyone already knows the identity of the
perpetrators. I also feel the public has a right to know the full story –
not the edited one.
Another instance of not naming names is when a businessman who held a
birthday party in December at Buddy’s Night Club and decided around 5AM
to set off fireworks. The businessman’s name was not published by one newspaper in this country.
Even for smaller matters, names are not published, like last month when a
teacher at a secondary school in Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam) was
sanctioned by his headmistress for comments he posted on his Facebook
wall. Why on earth would the name not be published?
I do not support the view that criminals should be protected from the media spotlight. In fact, I wholly maintain that this information should and must be made public.
I have long watched with frustration to see both Stabroek News and my
own Kaieteur News, remove the most vital information – the names of the
criminals – from their reports.
Even when it comes to providing the names of government officials and
public workers who have “misbehaved,” like when they hit a person on the
road, their name is withheld. If such a thing happened in the US,
Canada, etc., the entire nation would know the full story within a
matter of minutes.
At first I thought this omission of names applied only to those whom
some call the “untouchables.” And though I am sure it applies to this
group in greater measure, it also applies to the rest of society as well
– as is evident by the story about the teacher who posted comments on
Therefore, one must assume this is a policy.
However, I could agree with not publishing the name of the teacher because it is a minor issue that had been lightly punished.
I cannot agree with the withholding of names of individuals who are high
officials and have committed a crime. Nor can I agree that the media
should protect a businessman who has broken the law.
I question this policy as I see it as a detriment to journalism in
Guyana. There have been journalistic debates on whether to name the
names of rape victims and minors, but it has long been an acceptable
practice to name criminals and to keep the public fully informed of the
actions concerning their public officials.
What is the reason for shielding those who break the law? Consider this;
could it be that such protection of criminals by the media is one of
the reasons criminals feel the freedom to do as they wish? I do believe
this to be the case in part.
Of course, criminals must answer to the law for their unlawful acts, but
if the local media does not publish their names, they do not have to
answer to the community. Moreover, the community does not know of the
crimes committed by these law-breakers – because the media did not
publish names – and that makes the community vulnerable to the
criminals’ next crime.
It is not law enforcement’s job to inform the community of such things.
It is the job of the journalist. When we do not provide the full
information regarding crimes, like the names of who committed the crime,
we do a great disservice to those who consume our news – whether
through newspaper or television.
It seems that everything is turned around in this situation. We are
protecting the criminals and leaving the community exposed to harm when
we should be protecting the community and exposing the criminals.