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Letter: Media dined out on Village mall affair

Letter to the editor
"What made the Village mall affair so damaging was not merely the selective enforcement of the law, but the way charges were reported and spun into a dirty scandal," letter-writer Michael Connors Jackman observes.

I am writing in response to an article published on the 25th of February concerning the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s decision not to offer an apology to the men involved in the Village mall affair of 1993.

Though I am generally inclined to side with those who demand an apology from the RNC, I would like to remind folks in St. John’s that the police did not act alone in effectively ruining the lives of many men and their families. News media played a central role in spinning a salacious and perverse story which was eaten up by readers and viewers.
The Evening Telegram, the CBC, and other news sources had a field day with the Village mall affair, repeatedly publicizing the names, ages and home addresses of the men who were charged, along with the postponement of court appearances, guilty verdicts, dismissed charges and so forth. The argument from certain journalists (if you could even call them that) was that the public had a right to know the names of the accused, as was the case with those charged in connection with Mount Cashel. Hindsight reveals the absurdity and injury of any comparison of the two affairs.

Police investigations of public sex are not new, nor are they unique to Newfoundland. What made the Village mall affair so damaging was not merely the selective enforcement of law, but the way charges were reported and spun into a dirty scandal. Police and reporters worked together in creating what social scientists call a moral panic, wherein a threat to morality is exaggerated to produce public anxiety.

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 don’t expect anything resembling justice from the police, who are beholden to whatever laws prevail at a particular historical moment, but I expect journalists to hold themselves to a higher standard and to acknowledge when they have failed the public.

Michael Connors Jackman
Vienna, Austria

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