Reporting dying officer's last words complaint turned down
Reporting the distress call of a dying police officer as he lay pinned under a minivan did not breach journalistic ethics, the Ontario Press Council has decided.
In explaining why it would not hold a public hearing, the council told York Region Police Chief Eric Jolliffe that it had considered the impact of the reports by the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail on the family and colleagues of Const. Garrett Styles.
"It is the view of the council that neither the Star nor the Globe overstepped the boundaries of journalistic ethics," the council's executive director, Don McCurdy, said in a letter to Jolliffe.
"The council found the coverage served to highlight the courage and concern Const. Styles exhibited when he asked for emergency aid for those in the van as his life slipped away."
Just before dawn on June 28, Styles was dragged 300 metres before being pinned under a minivan he had stopped on a rural road east of Newmarket, Ont.
Several media outlets, including The Canadian Press, published or broadcast parts of his distress call over his police radio.
In the transmission, the married father of two young children pleaded for someone to get the overturned minivan off him and expressed concern for the occupants, while the dispatcher urged him to keep talking and told him help was on the way.
Jolliffe's complaint to the council about three articles published by the two dailies denounced the publication of Styles' words as an appalling breach of ethics and trust that could have jeopardized the investigation into the death.
"I am, quite frankly, appalled that the media would post these audio recordings in such a callous fashion," Jolliffe said in his complaint.
"Their actions have compounded the grief that has stricken the members of this police service and I can only imagine the additional anguish that has been inflicted upon his family."
The audio recording of the non-encrypted exchanges between Styles, 32, and his dispatcher were obtained via RadioReference.com.
The council ruling applies only to the newspapers' printing of partial transcripts of the transmission.
The website broadcasts and archives publicly available transmissions from across North America.
Given that the published excerpts were sourced from the website, they were "already in the public domain," the council noted.
The council said the articles were "clearly in the public interest, were accurate and had news value."
McCurdy noted that police and media "often disagree" over the release of information, but said in the letter that the council shared the public's sadness over Styles' tragic end.
Thousands of officers and members of the public turned out for his public funeral in early July.
A 15-year-old boy, paralyzed in the incident that killed Styles, was charged with first-degree murder. The teen is scheduled to make another court appearance Oct. 28.
Jolliffe did not immediately respond to a request to comment about the council's decision.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has yet to adjudicate the chief's complaint against private broadcasters who aired the actual transmissions, executive director John MacNab said Tuesday.
The CBC, which is not part of the broadcast council, has previously said it did nothing wrong.