Monday 23 September 2019

Comment: 'Are Crimecall ratings more important than finding a missing person?'

Jon Jonsson
Jon Jonsson
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

An Garda Siochana released CCTV footage of the last known steps of missing Icelander Jon Jonsson yesterday, but it came with a caveat - news organisations couldn't publish it until 10.15pm.

That's because RTÉ's Crimecall was going to air the footage first - at 9.35pm on Monday night. And everyone else would have to wait.

Mr Jonsson (41) vanished after leaving the Bonnington Hotel in Dublin more than two weeks ago.

Common sense would suggest valuable CCTV and information should be released to the public as soon as its made available.

It must then be questioned why gardaí embargoed such footage until after it aired on RTÉ's Crimecall. Gardai had released 'stills' of the CCTV footage to journalists on Sunday - so they obviously had access to the CCTV footage since then at least. 

But the initial email containing a video link to the CCTV footage was only sent to media organisations at 8pm on Monday night.

And it came with an embargo.

"Gardaí wish to renew their appeal to the public for assistance in tracing 41-year-old Jon Jonsson," the statement said.

"The investigation is being highlighted on tonight’s Crimecall programme... Please note that there is an embargo on the use of this CCTV until 10.15pm."

Crimecall plays a "vital role in assisting An Garda Siochana with its work on various live investigations," gardai say.

But does that mean other media organisations should be restricted from publishing CCTV which could help a time sensitive case?

Or was the embargo introduced so the footage would be exclusive to Crimecall?

Crimecall is there to provide a public service, but it has been known to refuse showing CCTV that aired elsewhere first.

My parents were victim of an armed robbery five years ago and the whole incident was captured by security cameras.

They released the footage to and in a bid to help identify the perpetrators.

People came forward with information, but no arrests had yet been made, so they then contacted Crimecall in the hope they would broadcast the incident.

They were told no. The reason? Gardai decided what aired on the show and it was likely they wouldn't use it as it had "appeared elsewhere."

That approach isn't really conducive to catching criminals.

Gardai issuing CCTV videos to news organisations via a press release is rare. The embargo added to the unusualness.

"An Garda Síochána is releasing CCTV footage aired on Crimecall tonight for the purposes of assisting in a missing persons investigation," the press release said.

"This footage is not being released for any other purpose. While every effort has been made to ensure that third parties are not identifiable on the footage, please ensure that you are satisfied that no other parties, other than the missing person are identifiable.

"If/when the missing person is found it is your responsibility to ensure that this CCTV footage is removed from all your online media sources."

Media websites always publish missing person appeals released by gardai and often they help trace the person and encourage people to come forward with information.

It begs the question as to why the footage was only released last night, when CCTV images had been released at the weekend.

There's probably some GDPR reason behind it which involves a convoluted explanation, but one would think it's in the interests of Jon Jonsson's family that this detail would be made available to the public as soon as possible.

Media organisations are competitive with having stories first, but when it comes to missing people or anything that is time sensitive, that really shouldn't be the case.

Crimecall may be broadcast on RTÉ, but it shouldn't delay other news sites from showing important footage for fear it might attract less viewers.

When asked if the embargo was a request by RTÉ, an RTÉ spokesperson said: "All decisions around CCTV footage used on Crimecall are operational decisions for An Garda Siochana.

"RTÉ does not ask for footage to be embargoed."

On receiving queries from about the reasons for the embargo, the Garda Press Office said the feedback "will be taken on-board if similar situations arise in the future."

"Firstly, thank you for your support for missing person investigations. Thank you for your feedback on this matter, which will be taken on-board if similar situations arise in the future. An Garda Síochána uses embargoes to assist the media while protecting ongoing investigations.

"An Garda Síochána does not comment in individual aspects of an ongoing investigation.

"In any Missing Persons investigation a range of factors are considered with regard to how the investigation proceeds and the level and variety of public appeals which are made which include, but not limited to:

  • The age of the missing person
  • The circumstances of the disappearance
  • The background of the missing person
  • Views of the immediate family
  • Progress of the investigation

"Yesterday Crimecall featured four independent missing persons investigations."

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