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Protecting the Rights to a Fair Trial Against Unfair Media Stories

Protecting the Rights to A Fair Trial Against Unfair Media Stories in Oklahoma by Glen R. Graham, Attorney at Law 918.583-4621

It is important for any trial attorney to be aware of the Code of Professional Journalism at Society of Professional Journalist web site.

One of the options that a good criminal attorney has is to seek a protective order from the court by filing a motion for a protective order. While there are many limitations on "gag" orders and the media may attempt to challenge the constitutionality of the same, it may be possible to seek an order from the court directing the prosecutor and his staff and the law enforcement personnel be prohibited from releasing certain kinds of questionable facts such as:

Illegal Confessions; Statements of the Accused; Questionable Out of Court Identifications; Illegal Evidence or Evidence Illegally Acquired; and the release of any facts which may cause undue prejudice to a fair trial such as the prior criminal record of the accused.

From Wikipedia: “Guaranteeing the presumption of innocence extends beyond the judicial system. For instance, in many countries journalistic codes of ethics state that journalists should refrain from referring to suspects as though their guilt is certain. For example, they use "suspect" when referring to the suspect, and use "allegedly" when referring to the criminal activity that the suspect is accused of.”

“More subtly, publishing of the prosecution's case without proper defense argumentation may in practice constitute presumption of guilt. Publishing a roster of arrested suspects may constitute undeserved punishment as well, since in practice it damages the reputation of innocent suspects.”

Most journalists in the U.S. abide by the Code of Ethics of the Society for Professional Journalists. The code has been revised many times, but today’s code basically instructs journalists to (1) seek truth and report it, (2) minimize harm, (3) act independently and (4) be accountable. The Society of Professional Journalist does not have an enforcement mechanism to enforce its code. It has debated this matter but due to the special nature of the first amendment and the availability of other mechanisms for holding journalist accountable, there is no enforcement mechanism. The code currently is a basic guideline for journalists who are members of the society which is voluntary. Integrity and credibility are considered crucial to many journalists .

Preamble to the Code of Ethics of Professional Journalists
By the Society of Professional Journalists

Preamble to the Code of Ethics of Society for Professional Journalists:

“Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society's principles and standards of practice.”

Additionally, the Code says journalists should:

Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

Minimize Harm - Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:
— Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.

— Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
— Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
— Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
— Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
— Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.

Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.

Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

Act Independently
-Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.

Be Accountable> - Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.
— Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.

— Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
— Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
— Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
— Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

Struggling with a dilemma on deadline, or just want to talk about a tough call you've had to make concerning an ethical question about journalism? Call the Society of Professional Journalist at 317/927.8000 x208 Simply make the call, leave a message. The SPJ has many journalists and journalism educators on its ethics committee willing to assist anyone who makes a call to its hotline; that includes non-journalists who have questions about the ethics of journalism but there is no code enforcement mechanism regarding journalists.

The Society of Professional Journalist web site at Society of Professional Journalist web site also has a message board where messages are posted and issues discussed by members at message board of SPJ .

Yours in the Defense of Fellow Human Beings,

Glen R. Graham, Tulsa Criminal Attorney, 918.583.4621

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