In March nine teenagers from South Hadley High School in Massachusetts were charged with various crimes relating to a bullying incident that ended in the suicide of a classmate. Six of the teens were charged as adults - among them three 16-year-olds, two 17-year-olds and one 18-year-old - and three as juveniles. The day after the charges were filed, local newspapers published photos of the teenagers charged as adult, but not of those who had been charged as juveniles.
It is common for newspapers to print pictures of adults charged with crimes, but some questioned the publication of pictures of teenagers younger than 18. Given that the youths are considered innocent until proven guilty, and in light of the lasting damage that might come from having their images published in this context, some readers felt that the editors had erred in publishing the pictures.
Is it OK to publish photos of teenagers younger than 18 who have been charged as adults? Or should newspapers withhold such images, as they do with those of any juveniles charged with crimes?
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Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.
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It's not ok to publish pictures of minors, regardless of what they are charged with. The accused may have acted as adults, but they are still under parental supervision (supposedly) and deserve some measure of privacy.
I have never been one to advocate allowing teenagers to get away with heinous crimes without having both their identities and photos published. I think our laws preventing this are wrongheaded and based on times when kids in this age group hardly ever acted in this manner. Maybe if they were embarrassed with being given notoriety in this manner, both they and their complicit parents would be shamed into ceasing this type of activity.
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