Once again the grandiose banner of “Your Right To Know” has been trotted out to justify a newspaper’s dishonourable exercise of self-interest. Under the populist guise of doing a public service, the press repeats the fallacious argument that the fact that an individual has been charged with a sexual offence is “hidden” from the public.
The fallacy of their argument is immediately apparent once it is understood that the courts are, other than in exceptional circumstances, open to the public. Any person who feels that his right to know the identity of who is on trial is being abused can simply walk into any courtroom on any day and find out. He can even look on the court lists published daily in the precincts of the court.
The reality is that the true “right” that the press are demanding, is not the public’s right to know, but their own ‘right’ to publish. Why? Because front page headlines about sexual offences sell newspapers.
If the Attorney General’s recent comments are any guide, it seems as if the government has fallen for this phony “right to know” argument. Yet in her own comments, Ms Chapman provides the reason why allegations of sexual offending must be treated carefully when she says –
“while other serious offences may also attract some stigma, sexual offences are viewed as particularly abhorrent and may taint the reputation of a person even if they are acquitted.”
It must be remembered that such persons have only accusations against them, not proof. But if the press is to have its way on this, the lives of those accused are ruined no matter what the final outcome at trial is. In the Advertiser’s unbalanced report, by listing only the names of those who have been convicted of offending, the journalist has deliberately ignored the fate of those who were acquitted and falsely charged and the devastating effect that it has had on their lives.