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Q2 News is limiting when we use mugshots. Here's why

Posted at 11:55 AM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 13:55:49-04

BILLINGS – We're all familiar with the phrase "innocent until proven guilty." This powerful phrase is heard so often, that its significance may at times be forgotten. The presumption of innocence is one of the key components in the groundwork of the U.S. criminal justice system. In turn, KTVQ chose the presumption of innocence as its groundwork for our policy on publishing booking photos.

Now, KTVQ is making a commitment to significantly reduce the use of police mugshots on all of our platforms, including our presence on broadcast television, streaming video, social media, our mobile app, and website.

An arrest is not a criminal conviction. However, when we publish a person's mugshot following their arrest, that person may be convicted in the court of public opinion. Public response can last long after legal proceedings end, particularly on digital platforms through search engines and social media.

“We understand the long-lasting impacts of a digital footprint and the unintended consequences a mugshot can have on an individual and their families. Far too often charges are dropped, altered, or downgraded but the damage is already done,” said Keagan Harsha, news director at KTVQ.

News organizations like KTVQ have been forced to ask ourselves whether the value of reporting the information outweighs the potential harm caused to those who are identified in our stories. Criminal charges can impact everything from securing employment to attending a child’s field trip. That’s why the KTVQ management team has decided the news organization will only use mugshots in rare circumstances.

“Mugshots still serve a valuable purpose if a suspect is at large and authorities have requested the public’s help finding a named suspect. It may also be relevant to share a booking photo if the crime involves a prominent figure or someone entrusted with the safety of welfare of others. There are also occasions where a photo may be used to encourage more victims to come forward. The goal of this policy change is to be much more thoughtful about when and how mugshots are used,” Harsha said.

This change is reflective of changes across the news business at large. Major industry players, including the Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, and recently, the Associated Press, walked back outdated policies as more information circulated on the damage they can do to communities.

This new policy is being enacted at all of KTVQ's sister stations within the Montana Television Network (MTN), including: KRTV (Great Falls), KPAX (Missoula), KAJ (Kalispell), KBZK (Bozeman), KXLF (Butte), KTVH (Helena) and KXLH (Helena).

You can read KTVQ-TV's new suspect identification policy in its entirety below.

  • MTN does not identify suspects who have not been formally charged.
  • In addition, MTN will not use mugshots in our reporting, even when the suspect is identified by name.
  • Exceptions to this policy may be made in the following instances with the approval of a news manager:
  • Crimes involving a prominent figure, or someone entrusted with the safety and welfare of others (city officials, police officers, teachers, etc.)
  • Crimes in which the police have asked for the public’s help in finding the named suspect as a matter of public safety.
  • If it is unlikely that we will follow the case through its resolution, we will not identify suspects.
  • It is also the policy of MTN to not identify juvenile suspects unless they are being charged as an adult. We will take great care not to name family members or include other details in our reporting that could lead to the identification of a juvenile suspect.
  • We will consider the severity of the crime and the alleged perpetrator: in the cases of crimes involving minors or non-violent crimes consider avoiding using a mug shot entirely in the story. (this could include felony DUI, burglaries, thefts, vandalism, walkaways, etc)