By Kathy English for the Toronto Star
A reader’s good question about the Toronto Star’s reporting of the race of suspects wanted by police raised relevant points demanding further inquiry.
“I am curious about the application of the Toronto Star’s policy on naming the race of suspects,” the reader, who works in the field of human rights law, told me last week. “The description of yesterday’s sexual assault suspect does not mention his race (he appears to be white), in contrast with an earlier story identifying a suspect as black.
“Admittedly, I am more than curious – the ways in which race and suspects are reported can feed into stereotypes about race, propensity and crime,” said the woman, who preferred not to be named in this column.
She is right of course. The media’s depiction of race can have a significant impact on the perception of race in our community. Particularly when it comes to depictions of race and crime.
The Star has long decreed that “no reference, direct or indirect, should be made to a person’s race, colour or religion unless it is pertinent to the story.”
Our policy on racial references makes some exception in the case of a missing person or a criminal suspect at large. In such cases, the policy states, “there may be justification for identifying race or colour as part of a full description that provides as many details as possible. Avoid vague descriptions that serve no purpose.”
This reader pointed out two descriptions of suspects published recently in the Star. As she indicated, a Sept. 18 report of a man wanted for sexual assault made no reference to race in stating that, “The suspect, shown in a security camera picture, is described as about 25 to 35, 5-foot-9 to six feet tall, with medium build and brown hair. He was wearing a red gold shirt, navy blue shorts and brown thong sandals.”