8 October 2010
Disclaimer: This reporter is not a crazed Collingwood supporter, even though he may have been born into a mad Magpie family. Right, now that's said, let's talk football. And in particular, the decision to name the two players at the centre of a police investigation.
On Monday, the Herald Sun broke the story that two players had been interviewed by police the day before. We work closely with the newspaper, so it didn't take me long to find out who the players were. I actually overheard while I was standing in the lift. And thus, it didn't take long for such serious allegations to become office gossip. It's important to note that one of the players names I was told, turned out to be incorrect.
I admit that I wondered why their names weren't being mentioned in public, because I have reported many stories, and read many stories, about other footy players who have been interviewed by police.
The most recent example was Brendan Fevola, who was accused of flashing a woman who was attending a family footy event. Coincidentally, on the day that 3AW's Neil Mitchell named the two Collingwood players on his radio program, the Herald Sun's front page featured a picture of Fevola, reporting that no charges were to be laid. I can't help but notice the link here - A footy player who has been questioned by police over a sex-related incident. No charges laid.
There is another side to this though. The right to a presumption of innocence. While the law may abide by the rule, the human mind is a strange creature.
On Sunday, even after attending one of the Grand Finals, and screaming at the television during the other, I had never heard of the names Beams or McCarthy. If I walked past them in the street, I wouldn't have even noticed them. But now I know them. Again, I'll point out that neither of them has been charged, and both say they have denied the allegations. But I'm talking about the human mind, which has a tendency to make opinions very quickly. Once we have an idea about something, we try to back it up, and ignore evidence to the contrary. It's a flaw by our maker.
In essence, while Neil Mitchell may have backed up his decision to name them with the disclaimer that they may have simply witnessed an alleged crime - it's simply not enough.
Having worked with Neil Mitchell for several years, I don't think he would make a decision simply for ratings, and the Vox Pop segment on the Melbourne Report this week backed up the view that his decision hasn't been received favourably by the community, or his audience.
It reminds me of how angry I became when Hinch announced that he believed Graham Kennedy died of Aids several years ago. Turned out there was no evidence. It's the risk that all journalists face, wanting to be first, following a hunch, and sometimes getting things wrong.
It didn't take long for the civil libertarians to call for a change in the law. But there is a danger here. If the laws are changed, and no person in a privileged, or high profile position can be named before they are charged, these people may also have the power to corrupt the police investigation.
It's alleged to have happened before. Police investigators "losing" crucial evidence, or crucial witnesses being paid off. And we'd be none the wiser.
We've got to be careful here, and I'm not linking this to the two Collingwood players. But you get my point.
It's a delicate issue, and perhaps Neil Mitchell should have considered the wider ramifications of naming two un-charged players. It's probably not helping our cause for freedom of the press. But Collingwood's also the odd one out here, choosing to protect the players' names, while other clubs in similar circumstances have chosen to be more transparent.
But now's not the time for an iron fist approach from authorities to protect people who are have been interviewed, either.
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