Tag Archives: publication bans

Publication ban protects settlement talks

In case you missed it, a judge last week ordered a publication ban on settlement negotiations between the government and Groupe Polygone, an ad agency in the middle of the sponsorship scandal. The ban follows a previous one issued against the Globe and Mail and is more broad in nature, this time directed specifically at La Presse but also any other media outlet.

The gag order is only valid while the talks (which are supposed to be confidential anyway) are ongoing.

Monday in La Presse, Yves Boisvert says that reporting things that are supposed to be confidential is the entire point of investigative journalism. The Globe and Mail makes a similar point.

I don’t know how important it is to know the status of settlement negotiations, but I also don’t agree that either the federal government or a company that broke the law has any right to privacy in these negotiations, especially if one side (almost certainly in the government) has leaked that information to the media.

Officer Anonymous

By law, I am now required to obscure this officer's face in this photo taken from last month's police brutality protest

By law, I am now required to obscure this officer's face in this photo taken from last month's police brutality protest

I have sympathy for Montreal police officers Jean-Loup Lapointe and St├ęphanie Pilote. On August 10, 2008, they were patrolling in Montreal North when they spotted some young people engaging in a benign but illegal activity. Doing their duty, they proceeded to arrest one of them, who was breaking a bail condition. The situation quickly got out of control, and fearing for their safety (combined perhaps with inadequate training), they fired at their attackers, mortally wounding one of them, a kid named Fredy Villanueva.

Activists saw this as yet another evil police shooting by bloodthirsty cops. The Villanueva family quickly found that police were more interested in protecting their own than getting answers. And Lapointe and Pilote not only have the death of a young boy on their conscience, but live in fear that they might become the target for revenge because of a situation they never asked to become involved in.

The officers in question took what seemed to me to be a rather odd move in response to this fear: they petitioned the court to issue a publication ban on their names and images, arguing that there were credible threats on their lives and leaving their identities public would make them vulnerable to attack. Perhaps even more shocking, the court agreed and banned publication of their photos (but not their names). Newspapers, TV stations and websites had to scramble to remove the photos from any publicly-accessible archives and add warnings that the photos are not to be published until the ban is lifted.

Even I had to act. The photo above was taken during the police brutality protest last month. One of the protesters took a photo of Lapointe and made a wanted poster which was turned into a picket sign. I’ve deleted the photo from my Flickr collection and obscured his face in this post, because otherwise I could have been found guilty of contempt of court.

I knew about the publication ban because I read the newspaper (and I take a keen interest in media issues). But plenty of others aren’t aware of it yet (or perhaps just choose to ignore it) and so there are still plenty of copies of these photos online. A quick Google search will turn them up pretty quickly, and they’re no doubt part of many photo collections taken from the protest.

This just serves to underscore the absurdity of it all. The photos are already out there, and even the long arm of the law won’t be able to wipe out all traces of them. Those who would do harm to these officers could easily find copies.

More importantly, though, this isn’t about protecting the identity of an underage rape victim, or a police informant, or a child involved in a divorce custody hearing. These are police officers. They have to wear their names on their uniforms when they’re on duty for a reason. They have some expectation of privacy in their private lives, but in a professional capacity they don’t have that freedom.

Again, I have sympathy for the fear Lapointe and Pilote feel. But the threats against them are hardly conclusive, and even if you include the Mafia, premeditated attacks on off-duty police officers are extremely rare here.

I disagree with the decision to impose a publication ban in this case. Of course, in the end it doesn’t matter. The public can live without pictures of these officers for a few months, and anyone who really needs a copy probably already has one.

I can just imagine what will happen if that picket sign makes another appearance at a protest and officers try to arrest the person carrying it for breaking a publication ban.

Why are errors in online articles not corrected?

The Toronto Star’s public editor talks to Regret the Error‘s Craig Silverman about his new book (via J-Source).

The article talks about the reluctance of journalists to admit their own mistakes. It’s something you find in all professions, but journalists have a special duty to get their facts right. In fact, it’s the only thing they have to do.

Naturally, the article talks about how great the Star is at their corrections (few Canadian publications have corrections pages) and how they want to get better.

One suggestion, that Silverman has I think given up making because few bother with it, is to actually correct articles online when you issue corrections about them.

As a random example, this article about Ontario’s civil courts makes a simple error, saying that someone is currently in a position when she’s not. The correction is online and everything, but the original error is still there (about halfway down the article), and no mention is made of a correction.

For a more serious example, this correction notes that the Star violated a publication ban by revealing the names of victims in an inquiry. Unfortunately, at least one of the original articles, which has the full names of six children in it, is still online. (I won’t link to it because I don’t want to violate the publication ban myself, but it’s Googlable.)

In case the nature of the problem isn’t blatantly obvious by now, the original articles are emailed, del.icio.used, Dugg and otherwise passed around, and people can read them days after the fact, learning the false information with no clue that a correction has already been issued.

Newspapers, radio stations and TV networks can’t go back in time and unpublish something, but website articles can and must be altered to correct inaccuracies, preferably with a note describing the nature of the error and how it was corrected.

Why is that so hard to understand?