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By Chris Lackner
Freedom of the press became a hot topic in Hamilton this week after a newspaper printed the name of a young offender.
Kirk LaPointe, editor-in-chief of The Hamilton Spectator along with four other employees was charged with breaching the Young Offenders Act, explained David Spencer, a professor in the faculty of information and media studies at Western.
Spencer said last November, the Spectator ran a story about a former young offender who was on the run from the Hamilton police. The paper ran the fugitive's picture, printed his name and gave a history of his offences. Spencer explained the key issue in the case was the individual rights of the criminal versus the greater good of society.
According to Spencer, LaPointe probably felt there was no other way of telling the story without identifying the criminal and his history. "This sort of situation has been a plague on the media since the first newspaper was published," he said. "Kirk is not the first or last media person to do this."
Spencer said he agreed with LaPointe's decision. "I have to side with Kirk on this. He called the shot here because of a possible dangerous social consequence. He had good reason."
Manjunath Pendakur, the dean of information and media studies at Western said in his opinion, the public's right to know was more important then the individual's rights.
"Journalists are always caught in the middle of moral, ethical and legal questions," Pendakur said. "They are forced to balance the interests of society. In this case they chose to protect it."
Jim Hackler, a criminologist and professor of sociology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, agreed with the charge against LaPointe. "It is a law. Journalists are not supposed to publish the name of a young offender. Whether it is morally right or wrong is a non-issue in this situation. The law is still a part of our system."
He explained serious offenders, even juvenile ones, are known to the community and people around them. "Other parts of the world do not have the same protective system for young criminals," he said. "Evidence shows there is nothing lost in these other systems. People don't care one way or another. Communities know who their criminals are."
While Pendakur defended LaPointe and the media, he also said it was right for society to question them. "We still must be highly critical of the media. They are still the most powerful force in democracy."