The Sun has taken a bit of public heat over the last few days for a story we published on Tuesday of a CFB Shilo soldier who faces charges of bestiality.
As the Sun reported, the soldier was granted bail on allegations that he offered a 17-year-old girl money to have sex with him and his dog. Charged with bestiality, he’s also accused of sending her a video of himself performing oral sex on a male dog.
These charges have not been proven in court, but they were aired in a Brandon courtroom before any media release was issued by members of the RCMP. That’s where our crime reporter picked up the name of the individual and was able to recount several details of the story that were not released by the police on Monday.
A few individuals have taken umbrage at the Sun for describing those details, and the fact that we published the suspect’s name, especially when police refused to release his identity because they stated they were attempting to protect the victim and members of the man’s family.
As a news organization our reporters and editors are always conscious of the fact that the Brandon Sun is a daily newspaper and we have a responsibility to be community-minded. And when stories of this nature pop up from time to time — whether it be assault, murder, or something obscene — we do not take that responsibility lightly.
We routinely refrain from publishing the names of those either charged or convicted and sentenced for a crime, if a courtroom has issued a publication ban on the file or if the release of their identity could do more harm to the victim of the original crime. Sometimes it is a combination of both of those reasons.
In this case, the 17-year-old victim was not related to the accused — they met in an online dating website called Plenty of Fish — and in spite of what RCMP say, she was not likely in danger of being identified by our publishing the suspect’s name.
As the statement of principles adopted by the Canadian Newspaper Association notes, a newspaper has responsibilities to its readers, its shareholders, its employees and its advertisers. The operation of a newspaper, or any news gathering organization, really, is a public trust, and our overriding responsibility is to the society we serve.
That responsibility must always be in balance with our duties as journalists, however. We are, after all, a news organization. There will always be conflict between a person’s right to privacy and the public good. As such, anyone who reports news should judge each situation “in the light of common sense and decency.”
So how does this general code fit with our reporting the name of the Shilo soldier?
First of all, there is no denying the news value of this story — that any Canadian soldier on any base in any part of the country could be hauled before a court on bestiality charges is such an odd and rare occurrence as to make it noteworthy on the pages, websites and airwaves of any media organization.
Case in point, several organizations across the country published The Canadian Press version of the story, including the Lethbridge Herald, the Penticton Herald, the Toronto Star, CTV, the CBC, the Winnipeg Free Press and the Chronicle Journal (Thunder Bay, Ont.).
Secondly, if we were to always defer to the impact of every court story on the family members of an accused, we could never again publish the names of individuals involved in any court case. Ever. And to be frank, that’s not likely to happen.
There are always people affected beyond the victims when someone commits a crime. If a man kills another man in this city, certainly the suspect’s family is also affected by any media coverage. But it would do a disservice to the community at large to withhold his name.
Whether the charges against this man are proven true or not, charges like bestiality, murder or rape run deviant to the generally accepted principles that all of us live by in civilized society.
Anyone who commits a crime of any nature must realize that their actions will have a negative effect on people around them, especially their friends and families.
And unless there’s good reason not to do so, they must realize their names will end up being aired in public.