Police chief slams media’s decision to broadcast officer’s SOS call; files complaint

By now, you’ve probably read, or heard, Const. Garrett Style’s SOS call. Many media outlets (the Toronto Star, Canadian Press, CBC, CTV News…) made the decision last week to print, or broadcast, all or part of the dying officer’s radio dispatch as he lay trapped under an overturned minivan.

But was it the right decision?

York Regional Police Chief Eric Jolliffe says no. Reportedly furious, he has filed a complaint with the Ontario Press Council. In it, he writes: “I am, quite frankly, appalled that the media would post these audio recordings in such a callous fashion.”

Jolliffe goes on to ask for an apology from media. However, if response to his letter so far is any indication, he’s not likely to get one.

To date, none of the publications who published the transmissions are backing down from the decision. Indeed, according to a Canadian Press story on the issue, some outlets say Style’s last words only highlight his heroism, while other say the call was an important part of the story, period.

And here’s something that complicates the ethical matter further: Contrary to some people’s belief, the York Regional Police service did not release the radio transmissions; they were compiled via the website RadioReference.com.

While Jolliffe writes that he believes the media has a role to play when an officer is killed, he adds that in addition to keeping the public well-informed, media should respect the rights of the victim, his or her family, and the administration of justice.

“For those media outlets that chose to publicize Constable Styles’ radio transmissions, that trust has been breached and, ethically, the line of reasonableness crossed,” he writes, “We are now dealing with dozens of complaints from both our members and members of the public who are outraged by the release of the radio transmissions.”

Some media members aren’t too happy with their colleagues, either. The National Post‘s Joe O’Connor believes that the media turned an already awful story into something else — something sensational and also sickening.

“Airing the clip was insensitive, voyeuristic and, well, unbelievably crass in the worst sensational-American-blockbuster-journalism type way,” he writes in a column last week, “In an age of immediacy and 24-hour news cycles, journalists need to ask themselves: what comes next in the game of media one-upmanship? Just how low are we willing to go?”

What do you think? Which media organizations made the right call?