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Editorial: Changing times

Media coverage, it is hoped, is more sensitive and sophisticated now than it was 25 years ago.
Media coverage, it is hoped, is more sensitive and sophisticated now than it was 25 years ago. — 123RF Stock Photo

Last Saturday, we ran a story about a movement afoot to ban the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and members of the Liberal caucus from attending this year’s St. John’s Pride Parade.

The proposed ban was over the refusal of the government and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary to apologize for the way a sting operation was handled in 1993, when 34 men were charged after sex acts were caught on hidden cameras in a Village Shopping Centre bathroom.

A letter to the editor in today’s paper points out, though, that there was more to the issue than simply the actions of the police — and that there’s more blame to go around.

Some of that blame, the letter points out, belongs with the media outlets — The Telegram among them — that covered the charges with far more vigour than the seriousness of the charges would ordinarily have deserved, outing men and destroying lives in the process.

In part, the letter reads “I would like to hear an apology from the news outlets who scored ratings and sold papers by publicly humiliating men — many of whom were straight-identified and had wives and children. … I expect journalists to hold themselves to a higher standard and to acknowledge when they have failed the public.”

Through today’s lens, it’s safe to say that The Telegram and other media would not cover what happened at the Village in the way it was covered it in the early 1990s.

At the best of times, the media is a mirror of the public. Sometimes, though, it reflects a darker, more salacious side of human curiosity.

When people say, “You ran that story to sell newspapers,” they have a point: selling papers and attracting viewers and listeners is what we try to do — but that should always be within the limits of public values.

Through today’s lens, it’s safe to say that The Telegram and other media would not cover what happened at the Village in the way it was covered it in the early 1990s.

While the events at the mall were certainly indecent acts — regardless of the gender or the orientation of those involved, sexual acts in public would still face charges today — the news coverage was far more involved than crimes of such minimal public impact deserved. Any defence or justification of the coverage by the conflation of those events with the crimes against children at Mount Cashel was certainly misguided. No, not misguided. Mistaken.

The punishment should fit the crime.

And in this case, the public shaming was a far greater punishment than a consensual sexual encounter in a mall washroom deserved.

The media learns — at least they do if they’re listening carefully — from their readers, viewers, listeners and the general public.

“Long ago” is not an excuse, but it is an explanation.

There will be times in the future when people can look back at our coverage today and say that we were wrong in our approach. We make mistakes, and we evolve, just as public opinion and acceptance does.

And that is a very good thing.

Related letter: Media dined out on Village mall affair

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