Is it ok to disclose a victim’s name?

28 Apr

As journalists, our main goal is to put accurate and timely news out to the public. In many cases, the news deals with sensitive subjects. It’s important that the public knows about these issues, but where do we draw the line on what is ethical to include in a story?

In 2011, Courtney Clark was working as the morning anchor at Beckley, W. Va. based WVNS News when the station got a tip on a peculiar situation. The station received word of a domestic violence incident with a unique twist. The victim was a reporter for a competing station. Her boyfriend, a local policeman, was charged for the crime, and subsequently lost his job. Clark was given the task of covering the incident. Her producer encouraged her to include the reporter’s name because of her public image, especially after the local newspaper had disclosed her name in their own report. Clark felt that including the victim’s name violated her privacy.

“To me, it didn’t matter if she was a reporter. As a victim, she had a right to keep her name private,” Clark said.

Clark met with her producer to discuss her apprehensiveness in disclosing the victim’s name, and the two worked together to make the decision to keep her privacy in tact.

“I was very pleased with the outcome. It was important for me to keep her privacy, especially if I was reporting on it,” she said.

Presently, as Co-Evening Anchor at WVVA News in Bluefield, W. Va, Clark is much more aware of the ethical challenges that can arise in her everyday work environment as a result of the ethical dilemma.

“Now, I make sure that everything I put out to the public is not only accurate, but also that I report with integrity. It’s important to me that no one is harmed by the information I report on,” Clark says.

She also stresses the importance of talking to your editor or producer about potential issues with stories.

“Always talk to your producer. Sometimes he or she may not see your side of the issue, so it is always important you let it be known when you have a problem with the story you’re reporting on,” she says.

Clark believes the most important part of her job is getting accurate news to the people.

“It’s extremely important that, as journalists, we maintain a high level of integrity. The public relies on us to give them accurate news. However, it’s imperative that we get the news out to people as well as protect those involved,” she said.

Had I been in Clark’s situation, I would have acted in the same manner. Journalistic ethics is a balancing act of¬†¬†keeping the public informed as well as keeping victims safe. Regardless of the reporter’s public image, she was a victim, and she had a right to keep her name and involvement in this incident out of the press.

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