There’s a piece worth reading by Vinay Menon in the Toronto Star about this week’s big story and how it played out in the court of public opinon without hitting the legal system. Minay asks
“Is what transpired even possible inside the real system?”
It’s a good question. And a relevant one given the number of people who questioned the ethics of the Star, CBC and others about publishing allegations that hadn’t been proven in the courts.
While it is exceedingly important to carefully assess the facts of a story before assuming it is true, and it’s always good to have a little bit of skepticism, I take issue with the idea that until something is proven in the legal system it should be assumed false.
The fact of the matter is we report and act on information that hasn’t been proven in the courts all the time. There’s the mundane- John Tory is the newly elected mayor of Toronto- to the deadly serious – suicide bomber in Pakistan kills more than 50 people. Neither one has gone to the courts, even the one that ended in over 50 deaths. As anyone who has ever spent time reading court documents can tell you, the legal system has a lot more questions about what happened and how before coming to the same conclusion that respected journalists, governments, and the general public use all the time.
As both the public and as journalists we rely on all sorts of evidence beyond whether or not the courts have determined something to be true to make decisions. This doesn’t mean carte blanche for rumours and innuendo, by any means. But there is a whole lot of middle ground between what is blatantly untrue and what has been proven in the eyes of the law.