Open courts and good journalism
CBC/Radio-Canada and other news organizations are asking a Quebec Superior Court to release extracts of surveillance videos of last year's mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque.
Alexandre Bissonette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder in that incident, as well as additional charges of attempted murder. Prosecutors intend to use the videos as part of the sentencing process, which is still underway.
Our pursuit of these videos has provoked questions. Some of the victims' families do not want these videos to be broadcast publicly. And some experts have raised fears that putting these images into the public realm could inspire copycats, and lead to more bloodshed in the future.
Those are legitimate concerns. And yet, there are valid reasons why we are making our case for this release.
It is our belief than an open court process is in the public interest, and appropriate in a democracy, so that citizens can assess whether justice has been served. And media coverage is generally the best way to facilitate that.
We make that argument frequently, and we do not want to discard that principle, even though the tragedy of this event at a mosque is particularly upsetting.
At the same time, as the editor in chief at CBC News, I understand all too well that we need to be responsible and judicious ourselves. Even if the court were to release these videos, we need to consider carefully what – or even IF – we would air. Sensationalizing this event serves no public interest at all.
We deal with these situations regularly as part of our work. Unfortunately, there are violent and upsetting images available every day. And every day, we deliberate over what to show. That's why our Journalistic Standards and Practices include provisions around what sorts of images we can put on the air (or publish online), and when we issue audience warnings to help people make choices about what they and their families want to see and hear.
In other words, we plan to show restraint, even if we win this argument in court. And it's possible we could choose not to show this video at all – we can't decide that until we know the court decision.
Nonetheless, the principle behind our court argument is important. It's legitimate. And to set it aside now does not serve the public interest.
But I want to reassure you, our audience, that no matter what the court decides, we will accept the decision and we will act responsibly and with sensitivity.