The presumption of innocence until proven guilty applies everywhere. No democratic country withholds the names of those facing prosecution because everyone knows that it is one thing to be charged with something and quite another to be convicted. The principle according to which any citizen is…
The presumption of innocence until proven guilty applies everywhere. No democratic country withholds the names of those facing prosecution because everyone knows that it is one thing to be charged with something and quite another to be convicted.
The principle according to which any citizen is innocent until proven guilty is one theoretically embraced by authorities. In the context of the journalists’ code of conduct, it is extended: No one can be described as guilty even if they are convicted as such. In other words, journalists should not describe someone as a “murderer” even if the person has been convicted. Apart from the possibility of a judicial mistake, the term is not accurate. It would be more precise to say “someone who has been convicted of murder” than “murderer.” And this applies to all other charges. An individual is “charged with fraud” – not a “defrauder.”
The journalists’ code of conduct is not a moral bible to which reporters must adhere religiously. It is a basic tool used by the media to protect their most precious asset, namely their credibility. After all, if a reporter describes a defendant as a “defrauder” and the latter is subsequently exonerated, the credibility of the media organization for which they work will be compromised. The reporter has effectively lied to his, or her, audience.
Sadly, in Greece things are rather more confused. Reporters have traditionally not respected the right of citizens to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. But authorities also exploit the hazy situation by restricting the fundamental democratic right to information.
We should put things in order. When charges are brought against someone, it is an issue concerning the defendant and the judicial authorities. The Greek public should know what charges are being leveled by its judiciary and against whom. Taxpayers fund the police and judiciary and so have the right to know about their activities. Who are they prosecuting? Are they not prosecuting certain individuals whom they should be?
When these issues are raised in public, the possibility of judicial power being abused is minimized. Also, taxpayers are in a position to judge whether their money is being well spent.
Prosecutions cannot be kept secret merely to avert the possibility of some reporters disrespecting the defendant’s right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. In any case, withholding relevant information only serves to fuel speculation. It could lead to slander or libel being committed against people who do not face any charges whatsoever.
The abuse of one right by the media does not justify the abolition of another, more precious, democratic right.
Our legislation is full of provisions designed to curb all manner of journalistic wretchedness. If only our judges would implement these same provisions so that our trust in them might finally be restored.
KATHIMERINI English Edition, 28/06/2007