In 1997, the Council of Europe Recommendation No. R (97) 21 on the Media and the Promotion of Culture of Tolerance formally recognised that “the media can make a positive contribution to the fight against intolerance, especially where they foster a culture of understanding between different ethnic, cultural and religious groups in society.” Ethical journalism should ideally provide accurate, fair, reflective and informed coverage of various issues and events that are important to the citizens and shall enhance democratic values. By analysing the case studies, a pattern behavior can be observed in which the media underline personal details like the ethnicity of the accused person which motivates intolerance, ignorance and hatred and may result in social tension and discrimination. According to internationally recognised ethical standards, in reports on criminal cases journalists should use concise and factual language.
Just as the fundamental human rights are interconnected, so the ethical standards that the media should follow in terms of communicating information about criminal proceedings are interlinked. Reporting information for suspects and accused in a discriminatory manner is a prerequisite for increased social hatred and bias towards particular groups, as well as generalisation and marginalisation that may shape public expectations towards the trial’s outcome. This is problematic, since pressure could be posed on investigation, judges or jury to rule a person’s culpability, so as to meet public expectations and thus avoid the decline of social confidence in the judiciary.
The media have a crucial role in this process if they create a negative image and publish incriminating assumptions before the trial is concluded. At its core, the delivery of information that intentionally puts a specific focus on the defendant’s race, nationality, social or ethnic origin, national minority group, and others, suggesting their culpability, is an attempt at discrimination and violation of the presumption of innocence. Moreover, the way in which minority groups having a different ethnic or racial background are portrayed by the media can reinforce negative stereotypes. Nevertheless, the case studies show that it is a common practice for the media to use
The examination of the case studies shows that discriminatory language is used primarily on the grounds of the suspect’s or accused person’s ethnicity or nationality. As already pointed out, in some news materials on the case of the murder of Manolis Kantaris in Athens city center the defendants were named as “the Afghans” and “the murderers” by the press. Some of the publications also disclosed their full names along with personal information such as their illegal entry into Greece and release from the Kassaveteia prison. They also mentioned that the suspects were temporary residents on humanitarian grounds, as there was an ongoing war in Afghanistan. In addition, a few posts described the suspects as drug addicts and alcoholics. Altogether, these pieces created a perception that the defendants belonged to certain socially excluded groups, such as migrants, substance addicts, recidivists, etc. As a result, their guiltiness appeared probable to the general public. It should be taken into account that the general population is not necessarily interested or familiar with legal principles and the stages of the legal process, thereby it is credulous and does not always critically evaluate the information in news publications.
Similarly, in the case of the murder of Pamela Mastropietro, newspaper headlines described the defendant as “The Nigerian who tore the girl apart was not allowed to stay here” and claimed “he is a murderer, very murderous: he literally tore the girl to pieces and hid her body in two trolleys”. A number of articles were written with headlines like “Pamela Mastropietro, the horror of the second autopsy: The Nigerians made her suffer, then flayed her" or “Pamela Mastropietro, how she was killed: Journey into African horror”, a “cold and inhuman” slaughter”. Thus, the main message of the publication, incorporated in the title, clearly and undoubtedly points at the perpetrator of the brutal crime, again, prior to a hearing before a court.
If one looks at the Gabriel Cruz case, it becomes evident that from the very beginning of the trial, there were many personal details that were disclosed about the accused (including her photographs, age, nationality, current and previous occupations, etc.). Many media channels reported that the defendant was originally not from Spain, but from the Dominican Republic. A non-governmental organisation called SOS Racismo raised concerns over how media portrayal of criminal cases could actually incite racism and hatred. Even Spain's National Markets and Competition Commission (CNMC) warned the country's two major media groups, Mediset and Atresmedia, for spreading hatred while reporting the case. To make matters worse, the Facebook and Twitter profiles of four main media companies – LaSextaNoticias, Telecinco, A3Noticias and Noticias Cuatro – confirmed the presence of a parallel trial on social media marked by racism, xenophobia with the major part played by the media as facilitators of this kind of discourse.
personal details in order to amplify the idea of guilt attributed to that person and thus gain more reactions and public attention to the story. In terms of international ethical rules, The Council of Europe Ethics of Journalism explicitly states the moral obligation of the media to defend democratic values and to reject all discrimination based on various grounds. The Global Charter of Ethics of Journalism combines the obligation of journalists to ensure that dissemination of information does not contribute to social prejudice with the rule to avoid facilitating the spread of discrimination through their publications. Journalists must observe these ethical rules even more closely when reporting on criminal cases, as a number of human rights, including but not limited to fair trial and privacy, are concerned.chevron_right
Assessing the Risk of Isolation of Suspects and Accused (ARISA) is a project to investigate the consequences to people’s personal lives when accused in committing a crime.
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