Just over a week ago, I wrote a column about media intrusiveness, and whether it was acceptable for the media to dog the families of those involved in public issues, as well as the public figures themselves. I don’t think it is.
One of my work compatriots suggests I’m just too soft: that viewers secretly want to watch intrusive video, and while they might publicly decry it, they gobble it up anyway.
I’m still not convinced — and I offer up a little piece of intrusiveness that many might not have heard.
Weeks ago, in Melfort, Sask., the provincial courtroom of Judge L.J. Cardinal was preparing for the sentencing of Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the transport truck driver who pleaded guilty to causing the accident that killed and injured many members of the Humbolt Broncos junior hockey team.
It was a media event: some would say a media circus.
The accident and subsequent court case had garnered a huge amount of public attention.
And two media outlets applied to do something that had never been done in Saskatchewan before: not only bring cameras into the courtroom, but live-stream the proceedings online.
They had a specific target in mind.
Originally, the CBC and Postmedia said they wanted to live-stream victim impact statements from the courtroom, as long as they had written permission from the families whose statements would be streamed.
Not everyone was OK with that — in fact, the media only had written permission from one family, and weren’t likely to get any more.
As the judge wrote, “On January 21, 2019, the media advised they had canvassed the families involved and found that most preferred not to be videotaped reading their victim impact statements.”
I don’t blame the families in the least for that.
The rationale for the request (which was then reduced to the court proceedings only and not victim impact statements) was high-minded indeed: “The media submit that given the high public interest in this proceeding locally, nationally and internationally, allowing the media to stream, record and broadcast the submissions of counsel and the decision of the judge will further the ‘open court’ principle and promote the administration of justice. Many people cannot attend the proceedings in person, and given the use of technology by the public at large to obtain information, the media argue that live streaming serves to facilitate public access to the court process and public engagement with the justice system.”
Of course, left out of that explanation of the value of the exercise is what it would be worth in terms of viewing audience. Ick. And with regard to the victim impact statements, super ick.
(Victim impact statements have their own tangly issues: if no one stands up to give an impact statement at sentencing, does that make the crime somehow less heinous? If 50 people speak, does that mean the criminal should get an even more serious sentence?)
The judge didn’t go for it, writing, “I am concerned about the lack of information as to how live-streaming the proceedings can affect the administration of justice, victims, court officials, counsel for the parties, the accused and the public in attendance.”
The judge did allow texting and tweeting form the court, and audio recordings to allow for accurate note taking, but not broadcasting.
I’m fine with that: I don’t think that we have a right to look in every window, especially not to display innocent people in clear, raw pain.
But maybe I am too soft: maybe it’s acceptable for everyone — guilty, innocent, victim of tragedy or random person just passing by — to be fiscal fodder in someone else’s news reality show.
I don’t think so.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.