by Larry Smith
"How can you rape an underage girl and then post pictures of her online?"
That was the question posed by the grieving mother of Rehteah Parsons, who says her daughter was never the same after four boys sexually assaulted her two years ago.
When a cellphone picture of the alleged assault was circulated around her Nova Scotia high school, Rehtaeh immediately dropped out, and eventually committed suicide. Her funeral was held on Saturday.
The initial police investigation had ended with no charges filed, due to lack of evidence, but following public pressure the police reopened their investigation. A large part of that pressure was a threat by the hacker group, Anonymous, to identify the boys online.
In 2009 a New York City emergency medical technician faced misdemeanor charges after being accused of taking a picture of a female murder victim and posting it to his Facebook page.
Mark Musarella was charged with official misconduct, but said the posting was accidental. He was fired from the hospital where he worked and had to complete 200 hours of court-ordered community service.
In Chicago, the Medical Examiner's Office recently said it will post photos of dead bodies online in an effort to identify remains at the morgue, which currently has about 20 unclaimed corpses. Some news organisations, when reporting this story, published blurred photos of the dead.
Last month, a nurse in Switzerland who posted pictures of herself on Facebook sitting next to the corpse of an old woman came under fire from her profession, as prosecutors launched an investigation. The pictures were accompanied by off-colour comments. Newspapers blanked out the faces of the nurse and the dead woman.
In 2006 graphic footage of American soldiers being shot and blown up by terrorists in Iraq appeared on YouTube.com. Outraged relatives called for the videos to be removed, or the website shut down.
YouTube has since banned explicit videos and says it is constantly on the lookout for violations. "We remove them. Sometimes…these videos may be age-restricted." YouTube has also introduced a content filter to help users screen out offensive material.
But you can still find plenty of graphic images and videos all over the internet - from executions and grisly accidents, to the bloody manhandling of a barely alive Muammar Quaddafi by his captors.
In 2010 a young Egyptian man, who was beaten to death after being arrested by police, became a cause celebre after photos of his disfigured corpse spread throughout online communities. When Khaled Said's family visited his body in the morgue, his brother photographed the corpse with a mobile phone.
The photos brought attention to Said's death and contributed to growing unrest in the weeks leading up to the Egyptian revolution of 2011.Two police officers were later found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison as a result.
At the time, the Washington Post wrote that "Had it not been for a leaked morgue photo of his mangled corpse, tenacious relatives and the power of Facebook, the death of Khaled Said would have become a footnote in the annals of Egyptian police brutality."
And this is really the main point - whether there is a legitimate public interest in publishing what some might otherwise consider to be offensive material.
The British Press Complaints Commission defines "public interest" as detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety, protecting public health and safety, or preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
There is also a public interest in freedom of expression itself, the Commission says.
These issues have become more complex recently because the internet allows private citizens to distribute photographs and information about themselves and others in ways unthought of only a few years ago.
The Reuters iInstitute for the Study of Journalism recently produced a report on Privacy, Probity and Public Interest, after interviewing lawyers, academics, journalists, bloggers and those who have had their privacy invaded by the media.
The report described "a battle engaged around the point at which freedom of information and expression meet the right to the protection of private life." And "neither ‘private life’ nor ‘public interest’ are immutable. There have been significant changes in how both have been perceived and defined over time."
Privacy refers to the right of the individual to be protected against intrusion into his personal life or affairs, or those of his family, by direct physical means, or by publication of information.
But what about posting pictures of corpses?
Well, according to a leading treatise on libel, "The dead have no cause of action for defamation under the common law, and neither do their survivors, unless the words independently reflect upon and defame the survivors."
According to media lawyer Duncan Lamont, of the well-known British law firm Charles Russell, the laws of libel are intended to protect only the living against unjustified attacks on their reputation. "Of their dead relative, there are no circumstances under which a family could sue for libel."
More definitively, in England and Wales, the death of a claimant even a day before a libel action goes to court brings the action to a halt. In other words, once you're dead, you have no privacy rights.
But what about matters of decency, taste and propriety?
According to College of the Bahamas journalism professor Juliette Storr, "with freedom of speech there are always shades of grey. Is a photograph of a portrait of a dismembered human body obscene or art?"
Storr says she agrees with the view that community standards should be the guiding principle for issues of decency and obscenity.
"I also believe that the same rules we apply offline should apply online. We would not accept the publication of lewd and indecent material by the traditional media -- for example, the publication of dismembered human bodies on the front page of the Tribune or Guardian, or the images of minors having sex on ZNS, NB12 or JCN."
According to publisher Eileen Carron, "The Tribune doesn't believe in open season. There is freedom and there is licence. In other words we are free to print all the news that¹s FIT to print, but there is information that it would be irresponsible to print for many reasons."
Obscenity is one of those exceptions.
In British law obscenity is defined as a publication that, when taken as a whole, has the ability to "deprave and corrupt" those who see it. Depraved is defined as "deviating from what is considered moral, or right, or proper, or good". Corrupt is defined as "being changed from a sound condition to an unsound one."
Indecent material is a catch-all phrase that in British law is usually confined to extreme sexual or violent behaviour such as bestiality, sadomasochism, rape, torture, dismemberment or mutilation.
Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade was quoted recently as saying that "no one has a right to disrespect victims and their families. that kind of behaviour is not going to be accepted; it is out of order; it is obscene; it is indecent; and I am not going to allow that.”
He was referring to the recent publication on Facebook of a photo of the corpse of a man who had died in Bahamian police custody. As a result, activist Rodney Moncur - who has campaigned against police brutality - was arrested, jailed and charged with "publicly and wilfully committing a grossly indecent act." His trial is set for May 10.
However, no-one has been charged in the far more egregious case of leaking the gruesome crime scene photos of murder victim Nellie-May Cox in 2011, although the commissioner said at the time he knew which police officers were involved. In that incident, the police case file was also leaked.
And to my knowledge the commissioner has never remarked on the more ubiquitous and pernicious use of online media as it affects the Bahamas. Political attack bogs and fake news sites have proliferated in recent years, but their authors and sponsors are rarely - if ever - called to account.
Online smear campaigns can be stressful, damaging and difficult to counter. Today, everything gets stored online and someone’s deliberate slur or careless mistake can linger for years. Anonymous websites, fake social media accounts, altered Wikipedia entries - bad stuff thrives online and can generate unfortunate momentum.
As the Reuters report concluded, "The net has opened a parallel universe to that of the mainstream media— one with which everyone is learning to cope. In this vast universe, facts and rumours, lies and truth, facts and conspiracy theories, jostle for attention and for primacy.
"It has given those who use it the ability for the most part to act in a less constrained way than those working under the laws, regulations and traditions of the mainstream media when it comes to intrusion and invasion of privacy.
"The lifting of these inhibitions gives the net the attractive prospect of freedom: it also allows it to trespass much more efficiently and with much greater impunity into areas where others are more reluctant to tread."
It's a tough call.
A 'Cliff Notes' Summary of the Bahamas Labour Market Study
In 2011 the government and the Inter-American Development Bank launched the first ever Bahamas Labour Market Study - a $170,000 exercise to better understand the characteristics of our workforce and job market.
A cross-section of over 700 firms was surveyed during 2012, producing over 500 responses. Key results from this study were discussed during a private sector meeting at the British Colonial Hilton last week.
There is a major education/skills gap that is shutting out Bahamian workers from the job market, with the potential to create social instability. According to the IDB, "understanding the nature of the skills gap helps to guide evidence-based policy." Here are the key points:
1. We have a massive skills shortage - Firms have difficulty recruiting the right skills for the job.
2. This shortage is a big obstacle to productivity and is expected to become more acute as new investments come on stream.
3. As a result, there is high unemployment, especially among poorly educated workers and young people.
4. Investment in skills development can drive economic and social growth.
5. The most important criterion for selecting new hires is occupation-specific skills.
6. The most common reasons for staff dismissals were behavioural problems (i.e. soft skills).
7. Almost half of all firms had staff training programmes, mostly for occupation-specific skills but also for soft skills.
8. Most firms relied on internal trainers to address specific needs.
9. Aligning skills to what the market demands will improve employability, productivity and competitiveness.
10. The main obstacle to resolving the skills gap problem is the lack of coordination and collaboration among public and private sector stakeholders.
It cost a lot of money and time to get this information, which was readily available anyway. Now we have to see if it will be put to any use by policymakers.