For many years, people have advocated that the Associated Press, known as the “AP” scrub their past criminal mistakes from their archives. John Daniszewski, standards vice president at AP described some of the requests as “heart-wrenching”. They’ve made the decision to no longer name criminals of minor crimes in articles that are not likely to have future developments. Oftentimes, the names of these named people are irrelevant and the story may hinge on strange or interesting quirks about the crime.
It does not matter if the crime story is big or small, the name of the accused is often still added to the story. A less significant story may just mention details from the police report. However, a larger story, that might be discussed among friends or family, is likely to include interviews with acquaintances, or more intense investigations into the accused’s past.
“I received a very moving letter from a man who, as a college student, had been involved in a financial crime,” Daniszewski recalled in an interview with us, both media ethics scholars. The man’s life had been upturned, when his friends were shocked to find out about their friend’s criminal past. He even had to convince his fiance that was not a shady criminal.
Oftentimes, people’s arrest stories, from ten or fifteen years ago, may appear in the top of Google search results for the person’s name, even if they were not convicted, or courts had expunged their criminal records. It can bar them from renting apartments, getting jobs, or even cause issues while dating.
AP’s new policy is undoubtedly related to the recent shift in how Americans view of politics and culture and the changes from the racial justice movement.
There is a tradition of a “tell-all” policy of American journalists that differs from most European publications. In Germany, Dutch and Sweden, the identity of most criminal defense suspects is protected. They may use just initials or the first name and last initial of the suspect. German courts even went as far as to say identifying suspects in public documents affects their ability to “resocialization” and “right to personality” or reputation.
The majority of American reporters might regret the repercussions of publicly naming suspects, but they simply see it as collateral damage. They view themselves as watchdogs for the police and government. They have an inherent belief that the United States public has the right to this information.
The Boston Globe began the “Fresh Start Initiative” this past year, which allows people to repeal their presence in older stories about crimes that are online. It might include republishing the story with new information, or even removing it from Google search results. However, all final decisions do come to Globe’s discretion.
Journalists in all ten countries that were interviewed do agree on one thing – and that is that politicians must be publicly named after they committed a crime. Their views on private individuals committing crimes is radically different. American has the highest rates of incarceration in the world, with 2.1 million people in prison, with disproportionately amounts of people of color of the incarcerated population. As America has begun to make a reckoning with their long history of racism, the cultural shifts have been accounting for the inequalities towards Black and Latino people have included how reporting for small crimes, like marijuana possession, and drug possession can have detrimental repercussions on one’s future.