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7 Eyewitness News announces new policy intended to significantly reduce use of mugshots

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Posted at 1:54 PM, Oct 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-26 09:19:03-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — 7 Eyewitness News is making a commitment to significantly reducing the use of police mugshots on all of our platforms, including our presence on broadcast television, streaming video, social media, mobile app and website.

We're all familiar with the phrase "innocent until proven guilty." This powerful phrase is heard so often, its significance may at times be forgotten. The presumption of innocence is one of the key components in the groundwork of the U.S. criminal justice system. In turn, 7 Eyewitness News chose presumption of innocence as its groundwork for our policy on publishing booking photos.

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.

In addition, these images can be prejudicial and discriminatory, disproportionately affecting some communities more than others. This can depend on everything from arrest location (and the arresting department's and district attorney's policy on releasing booking photos) to the arrested person's ability to afford adequate legal representation, factors that may also be weighted by the effects of systemic racism. These images often do not provide any value to the news viewer.

The Policy

Effective immediately, 7 Eyewitness News will only publish mugshots in the following circumstances:

  • The person is currently the subject of an active manhunt or is wanted by law enforcement, and knowledge of the person's appearance and identity is important to public safety
  • The crime is sufficiently newsworthy that the inclusion of the person's image is of more significant value to the viewer
  • The person is a well-known public figure

Any mugshot that may fit one of these circumstances will be reviewed by newsroom leadership before publication.

Already-published mugshots

7 Eyewitness News has an existing policy for updating, amending or removing published content.

When making decisions regarding requests for removal of content, WKBW considers the following factors, seeking first to correct or update content rather than removing:

  • Accuracy of reporting
  • How long ago content was published
  • Contextual relevance to current or ongoing events
  • Severity of incident
  • Age of involved parties
  • Whether the content causes undue or unwarranted harm

Actions taken can include:

  • Updating content to maintain factual accuracy
  • Removal of images (booking photos, for example)
  • Removal of content

Requests can be made to review an already-published mugshot by contacting 7 Eyewitness News in one of the methods listed here.

7 Eyewitness News remains committed to serving Western New Yorkers with meaningful storytelling with accuracy, urgency and fairness.