The presumption of innocence is one of the key components in the groundwork of the U.S. criminal justice system. In turn, the Montana Television Network chose the presumption of innocence as its groundwork for our policy on publishing booking photos moving forward.
MTN is making a commitment to significantly reducing the use of law enforcement mugshots on all of our platforms, including our presence on broadcast television, streaming video, social media, our mobile app, and website.
An arrest is not a criminal conviction. However, when we publish a person's mugshot following their arrest, that person may be convicted in the court of public opinion. Public response can last long after legal proceedings end, particularly on digital platforms through search engines and social media.
For years, MTN— like many media outlets — has displayed the mugshots provided by law enforcement following criminal arrests. But in the age of digital and social media where information lives in perpetuity, the practice of identifying suspects and showing their mugshots has at times led to unintended consequences.
“We understand that we have an important responsibility to the audiences we serve,” said Keith Hatten, Senior Director of News at KPAX. “Mugshots can sometimes, when used by the media, live on in a way that might unintentionally harm the future progress of the people we cover.”
In some cases, criminal charges can be dropped weeks or months after the arrest. In others, official charges may never be filed. So, news organizations like MTN have been forced to ask ourselves whether the value of reporting the information outweighs the potential harm caused to those who are identified in our stories.
“We find it very important to thoughtfully consider when we use mugshots and contemplate even more why we’re using them so we can make the best decisions possible for the people we serve,” Hatten said.
Criminal charges can impact everything from securing employment to attending a child’s field trip. That’s why the MTN's news directors have decided the news organization would only use names and mugshots when a person was formally charged by a county prosecutor, rather than immediately upon arrest.
This change is reflective of changes across the news business at large. Major industry players, including the Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, and recently, the Associated Press, walked back outdated policies as more information circulated on the damage they can do to communities.
You can read MTN's new suspect identification policy in its entirety below.
MTN Mugshot Policy
This policy is to serve as a guide for publishing of mugshots on-air and online. As with any guide, this is not meant to take the judgment out of publishing, and at times certain stories may require acting outside these standards. A manager must approve any mugshots prior to use on broadcast, digital and social platforms.
- MTN does not identify suspects who have not been formally charged.
- In addition, MTN will not use mugshots in our reporting, even when the suspect is identified by name.
- Exceptions to this policy may be made in the following instances with the approval of a news manager:
- Crimes involving a prominent figure, or someone entrusted with the safety and welfare of others (city officials, police officers, teachers, etc.)
- Crimes in which the police have asked for the public’s help in finding the named suspect as a matter of public safety.
- If it is unlikely that we will follow the case through its resolution, we will not identify suspects.
- It is also the policy of MTN to not identify juvenile suspects unless they are being charged as an adult. We will take great care not to name family members or include other details in our reporting that could lead to the identification of a juvenile suspect.
- We will consider the severity of the crime and the alleged perpetrator: in the cases of crimes involving minors or non-violent crimes consider avoiding using a mug shot entirely in the story. (this could include felony DUI, burglaries, thefts, vandalism, walkaways, etc)
The purpose of this policy is to uphold journalism ethics and standards. It is our responsibility as journalists to always provide fair, balanced, and consistent reporting.
This policy encompasses all platforms, including broadcast, digital, social media and streaming