Monday 19 August 2019

Ratings for 'Crimecall' shouldn't come before getting missing person footage out to public

Embargoed: A still image from the CCTV footage of missing Icelander Jon Jonsson (41) walking in Dublin, the last time he was seen
Embargoed: A still image from the CCTV footage of missing Icelander Jon Jonsson (41) walking in Dublin, the last time he was seen
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

Gardaí released CCTV footage of the last known steps of missing Icelander Jon Jonsson on Monday, 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. 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 it's made available.

It must then be questioned why gardaí embargoed such footage until after it aired on RTÉ's 'Crimecall'. Gardaí had released 'stills' of the CCTV footage to news organisations 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. 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'... 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 Síochána with its work on various live investigations", gardaí 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? Gardaí 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. Gardaí 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 gardaí 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 on Monday 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 Mr Jonsson's family that this detail would be made available to the public as soon as possible.

Media organisations are competitive, but when it comes to missing people 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 fewer 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 Síochána. RTÉ does not asked for footage to be embargoed."

Asked about the reason for the embargo, the Garda Press Office said: "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."

Irish Independent

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