Michael Bachelard reports on an issue in Victoria that has received attention in many countries: whether those suspected of sex crimes should have the same right to have their identities protected in any media coverage as those who are alleged victims of sex crimes.
The rationale for protecting victims’ names and identities has always been pretty evident. But in a networked world where just an accusation associated with your name can linger forever in search engines, should the accused have their names and identities protected? If we take an “innocent until proven guilty” approach, it would seem that there is a strong case to be made for protecting their identities.
In his article, “Naming rights: is it time to change the rules?” Bachelard reports that a defense attorney representing an AFL athlete involved in such a case said that all people being investigated for crimes – sexual or otherwise – should be protected from being publicly identified until they are charged.
Just charged? Why not until they are convicted? Even just charges can permanently taint one’s reputation. Somewhat surprisingly to me, Liberty Victoria president Michael Pearce is quoted as agreeing with the defense counsel:
”These players who’ve been named may be completely innocent. Simply by being named they are damaged,” Mr Pearce said. ”Maybe at least until the time charges are laid they ought to be protected by legislation.
”If someone could come up with a workable law I’d like to look at it.”
The law is different in different areas. Queensland and South Australia seem to offer more privacy protection for accused individuals than Victoria, but New Zealand offers even greater protection, reportedly barring the naming of the accused until they are actually convicted.
Here in the U.S., of course, media are free to publish the name of accused individuals if they’re willing to risk a defamation lawsuit. Heck, they don’t even have to wait for an indictment or charges. They may name someone who’s been identified as a “person of interest” in an investigation.
We have a long way to go in terms of protecting privacy in this country. A long way.