Chatham-Kent police’s attempt to influence local media is bad judgement
By Greg Holden
A news room, even for a start-up, is a place where decisions are made that shape what the news looks like. Most days include decisions about what stories to run, what photos to run and more importantly at times; what not to run. A news room is a place where odd requests are frequent. People suggest things should be in the news far more than they suggest already published news be removed. Requests to have material removed are assumed by this editor to be made by people who do not understand what role the media plays in society. If there is an error in a story or a law is being violated, that is one thing. If the request is based on something distasteful being made public, that is another. It can be assumed that requests made to remove material are made by those whose insecurity outweighs their understanding of what is news.
CKPS Suggests Media Retracts A Story
Then there is the Chatham-Kent police, who yesterday kindly suggested local media remove a news story, and it’s social media tracks, that every news organization in town already had published. The press release was polite. The story in question involved a 17-year-old Ridgetown youth who has been accused of hitting his mother and damaging her car. He was then released on the condition he not go to his mother’s home. He did return to this mother’s home and he was arrested again, this time for making threats and violating his conditions of release. According to constable Renee Cowell, Chatham-Kent police spokesperson, the mother of the 17-year-old advised the police that the story’s publication was compounding problems for her son who is “dealing with some issues right now”.
This is true of all people the CKReview reports on who have been arrested. This is true of all families who read reports of their loved ones being killed in accidents. They are all dealing with some issues. The police know this as well as anyone and that is what is so startling about their suggestion. Why the special pleading for one case?
Family In Crisis
Families are torn apart by assault charges all the time, literally. Every time a family member who lives with the person they are accused of assaulting is arrested for assault, they are prevented from returning to that home until their case is resolved in the courts. In this instance the mother reported to police that her own son struck her on the arm. Consequently he cannot return to the residence he shared with his mother. This is a family in a crisis state. The police see it all the time, families cannot communicate or be near each other for months on end while they are waiting for a court of law to decide if a mother can talk to her son. They knew when they laid the charges that the charges themselves would compound this family’s grief. It is also what we expect of the police as citizens. The police are not mediators, they check for legal violations and if there is one then they lay a charge.
The fear in the court is that domestic violence leaves too many people dead and the courts have been accused of not doing enough to prevent it. Overkill exists in place of complacency. Families are torn apart by the legal system in favour of taking the risk of failing to prevent what could have been stopped. The drama, pain and life changing events people experience are more due to the legal process than their strained relationships.
Procedural Overkill Is Used Like A Weapon
To empathize with people affected by procedural overkill is to understand it happens in our society and to write on it, educating people about how this can happen to them. Without passing judgement on the case in Ridgetown, if you do not want the police to be involved then don’t call them. If you really need to be away from someone who is an honest threat, then call 911 immediately. Know the difference. Understand that if you call the police and a charge of assault is laid on a family member then the accused will be required to find new housing for many months and they will have no contact at all with their victim. If this is news, then perhaps that is because of attempts by the police to under-report and even ask for the removal of such stories.
There is no independent confirmation that the son had any problems with anything in the media and it wouldn’t be persuasive if it was true anyway. The same mother who alleges she was struck on the arm by her own son, sought to act in his best interests in reporting her son to the police. Twice. Now she has concerns for her son that the story was made public? Or is she ashamed she took action that now separates her from her son? Is Children’s Aid knocking on her door as well? The police not only take this woman’s word on the assault, to which he is innocent until proven guilty, but also that the damage of press reports is to him and not to her.
By requesting what is already part of the historical record of a news organization to remove a story, with the reasons given in this case, the police show poor judgement in: concluding the mother knows best, attempting to act as editor and mis-playing the business of local journalism. For those in print media they ran that story days ago. The suggestion to the CKReview is to remove a story that our competition has.
Publishers Do Not Run The Police Department
The police should stay in the business of policing. Reporters don’t tell editors what stories to run or where or when, so the police sure don’t. Alleged victims sure don’t. This business is influenced by the reader’s attention. It is not a toy for the police to play with, or regretful moms, or young local singers who can’t handle a bad review, or the former priest who is accused of sexually assaulting his step-daughter, or anyone else with “issues” who has asked for stories to be pulled. If the CKReview reports on the death or arrest of your family member, or you, be sure you have our most sincerely heartfelt sympathy. But to think the news is going away because it is unpleasant for some is to misunderstand what is a news story and what the business implication is of removing stories our competitors run. It also undermines the effort of putting that story out there in the first place, which itself took time and equipment to do. To remove it is to have done the work, not be credited because it is no longer found. Yet the competition, who did half as good a job, have the story.
Any local media who removed the story should use the slogan “We bring you the news, filtered by the police”.