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Right To Be Forgotten

The European Union has enshrined a "Right to be Forgotten" principal in law with the underlying assumption that many chapters of a person’s life do not remain relevant or important for the public to know and that undue harm can come to a person’s life or reputation if digital records persist long after they lose public relevance. WCBU recognizes this as a general truth.

The exercise of such a right encompassed more broadly by the right to privacy, however, conflicts with our mission to provide journalism of record to our communities, region, and state. A putative "Right to be Forgotten" may also come in conflict with the right to freedom of expression.

Before the internet, the technology of the day provided some of the protection sought by those who wish long ago incidents would not affect their present-day lives. The public record of news organizations persisted in libraries and on microfilm, while fading out of public consciousness.

The following policies are attempts to reflect that pre-internet ethos and find some balance between the duty WCBU has to inform the public and the harm it might do an individual later.

Takedown policy

Submit your takedown or change request.

As a matter of editorial policy, takedown requests will be rarely granted. A three-person panel consisting of the Content Director and the news Directors of WCBU and WGLT will vette all such requests. If available, the reporter on the story in question will also be consulted. If the person making the request alleges our work is inaccurate, the corrections and clarification policy will come into play. There may also be situations in which fairness requires an update or follow-up coverage, as when criminal charges are dismissed without further prosecution, for instance.

We would review takedown requests if the person involved is under threat of physical harm because of the existence of the material. In most cases, content fit for removal must be verifiably inaccurate, potentially libelous, in contravention of a publication ban or other legal consideration.

Here’s what we typically would not consider. We won’t remove names or articles in the case of serious violent crimes, sexually based crimes or crimes against children. We also won’t remove names or stories in cases of public corruption or, at our discretion, in cases where people hold a position of public trust, such as doctors, police officers and schoolteachers.

This still leaves potential inequities. Not everyone has the knowledge, resources, or persuasive ability to make a case a story should be taken down from our websites. Others may encounter language barriers, lack technological understanding or access, or not possess the agency to even know how to contact our newsrooms. Beyond not knowing how to ask, they may not even realize that they can. This doesn’t imply a conscious bias when newsrooms decide whether to grant a request; it can simply be a numbers game.

Mugshot policy

Starting June 1, 2021, WCBU will not use mugshot photos except in rare cases, such as a manhunt involving an at-large suspect who is a risk to the public. Mugshots come from police agencies. We know that law enforcement organizations engage in disproportionate enforcement patterns, which can result in implicit bias to our coverage.

Mugshots add little to the public record. And they may have an outsized impact on the subject of the photo, long after a case has been adjudicated and is neither publicly nor personally relevant to the person.

We think it is ethical and responsible to generally avoid mugshots without harming our commitment to accurate journalism.