As professional journalists, we have a code of ethics, if you will, that even the most novice in our field knows about. While editorial policies at newspapers and traditional news outlets differ, the fourth state as an industry adheres to the same code.
Much of it has to do with providing fair and balanced journalism by avoiding bias and conflict of interest. Some of it has to do with a concept called the limitation of harm–which means adhering to some simple rules like not naming minors or sexual abuse victims, in order to protect them.
The Sandusky trial is now going to test that theory. While the names of his accusers have remained cloaked for the general public, they will be appearing in court next week with their real names being read into the docket. The judge cited Pennsylvania law that prevents him for allowing anonymity or the use of pseudonyms in the courtroom.
And some of the concern in this industry is that it will undoubtedly mean that their names will become known and spread across the Internet, despite the fact that professional reporters will not use their names in their copy.
It would be obvious and understated to say that the Internet has had a massive impact on the dissemination of information. With that, even though I applaud the general notion of the more information, the better, has come something called responsibility. And quite frankly, I don’t see a lot of that when it comes to newbies, hotheads, malcontents and uninformed take to cyberspace.
Despite four of the victims seeking anonymity order, the judge ruled against them, which of course means potential fallout for those people, including a possibility they might back out at the last minute. It also could impact the future of such trials, where victims of sexual abuse would have to put themselves in the public eye (via public record).
There are no rules in the world of cyberspace where anything goes. On its dark side, libel runs rampant, vulgar character assassination is applauded and sensitive information that is really no one else’s business is exposed to anyone with computer access.
While Sandusky has the right to meet his accusers, I don’t think we do.