National NewsMedia Council releases new best practice guidelines for reporting on police and minor crime

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) is pleased to announce the public release of its latest best practice guidelines for reporting on police and minor crime to reflect and further inform newsroom discussions on these issues.

The release of this report comes after several years of discussions between readers and news organizations about the public’s growing concerns surrounding the news value, and the long-term impact, for example, of being named in a news report on what could be considered a ‘minor’ crime. At the heart of these conversations were debates that were grounded in systemic issues of equality and police practices, as well as the impact of digital technology that have made the retrieval of past accusations, which were later dropped, more easily accessible through the internet.

Staff at the NNC, under the leadership of former executive director Pat Perkel, began researching, reviewing, and compiling guidance for its member publications on best practices several months ago. Research for this project included reviewing past writings on the subject, engaging with experts, and participating in professional discussion forums. 

In addition, the NNC also worked with multiple reporters and editors at Canadian news organizations to add both thoughtful insights and earn broad consensus on our findings. This report also provides a brief review of how news organizations in other democratic countries deal with similar issues.

As you are reading the NNC’s findings, please remember :

  • These best practices apply to reporting on minor crime and routine police news releases. They do not apply to reporting on major crime and trials. Likewise, they do not speak to cases where individuals have been convicted of crimes, nor do they advocate for ‘unpublishing.’
  • This guidance on best practices recognizes that choices on police and crime reporting may vary among newsrooms and even on a case-by-case basis depending on the community, the particulars of the story, and a host of journalistic choices for the newsroom to consider.
  • The objective is to promote discussion on this subject, and to encourage consideration of the news value and ramifications before naming a person accused of minor charges, as well as to aid newsrooms in refining or developing their own processes to limit undue harm or provide remedy where appropriate.

These best practices are designed to support newsroom discussion and consideration of a process to limit undue harm or provide remedy if warranted. There is no doubt that crime reporting is important in terms of safety, law enforcement and an open court system that includes accountable police forces and judiciary. At the same time, the NNC recognizes that journalistic choices on police and crime reporting will vary among newsrooms; on a case-by-case basis; or on the particulars of the story. These guidelines have been compiled with the intent to reflect and provide  thoughtful suggestions related to current reporting practices that could help address some instances of systemic and preventable harm to communities and individuals.

To read the full report, please click here.