A 42-year-old man was on the run from police in Sweden for eight days, suspected of killing a 10-year-old girl. The girl went missing while out riding her bike.
Police finally arrested a man and tied him to other murders in Sweden. They are now testing his DNA to see if several cold case files in Norway and Denmark can be solved.
While pictures of the girl, her crying parents and her quaint hometown were plastered all over the tabloids for a week, photos of the man the Swedish media refers to as “the 42-year-old” didn’t appear until he recently admitted to the murders.
The newspapers all knew who he was. They had his photo. They knew he was a suspect in several murders and on the run from police.
“He could have been totally innocent,” the publisher of one tabloid says in an interview, after a journalism professor wrote an opinion column about publishing names of criminals.
Media’s role in society is to inform the public while doing minimal harm. In the United States, people’s names are printed in the paper from the day they get arrested – it doesn’t matter if they stole a scarf from a local store or if they are accused of killing someone while driving drunk. The only exception are people under 17, juveniles, who are protected by several state and federal laws unless they commit a heinous crime.
In Sweden, newspapers usually do not publish names until a person has been convicted. Sometimes not even then. Pedophiles, for some reason, never get their names in the paper, even after they are sentenced. Why? Because they need to be protected from society after committing such a horrible crime. And, they may be “cured” from their horrible sickness and should then have the right to return to society to live like normal people.
But what about the victims? What about other possible victims? Wouldn’t you like to know if a man convicted of a sex crime moves in next door to your family? Shouldn’t you have the right to know?
The Swedish professor calls for eased-up rules of publishing names. Publishing a suspect’s name “can make witnesses aware that they have important information they need to share with police,” he says. Withholding the names, he says, can put innocent people in harm’s way because others will start to guess who the “42-year-old” really is. Is it my neighbor? He is 42! Then the neighbor has been made into a suspect, because the real suspect was being protected by the media.
The Swedish attorney general needs to take some classes in how to fight crimes from the U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey. For too long, Swedish police, courts and justices have been too lenient. It is time for Swedish officials to step up to protect its people and stop protecting the criminals.