By now, we all are pretty familiar with the photograph of the alleged gunman at the Colorado movie theatre. His face has been all over the television and the Internet. In fact, it has felt like you could not avoid this man’s mug shot.

Here in The Netherlands, photographs of people who have been arrested are not made public. The faces of criminals are not put on TV or online.  It goes even further: a person who not only has been arrested, but has been found guilty and sentenced to jail time, will not be seen by the public. On television news when they are reporting on a trial, the face of the accused will be blocked out. The Dutch never see the bad guys.

The next level of this policy is that the last name of the person who has been accused, arrested and found guilty remains a secret. The public knows the person as George B…only the last letter of his name, and nothing more. The only time when the name is released is when this person has died.

Let me give you an example of how different this is from American life. In 2002, a Dutch politician was killed instantly in a parking lot. His name was Pim Fortuyn and he was known for his controversial views about immigrants. He was killed by a man named Volkert van der G. The Dutch don’t know his full name and he is just referred to by his last initial. However, now you can find his full name online. He was found guilty and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He could get an early release in 2014. The public have never seen his full face, they only saw his face with a black bar across it.

Other countries have this privacy policy, the Dutch are not the only ones. But it is so dramatically different from how things are done in the United States. Names and faces are put out on display and we are just used to it…this is the way things are done.  I am not sure what the right or wrong way is, but I do remember that the family members of the Aurora, Colorado victims asked the press and others to not keep saying the shooter’s name. They said they would rather hear their son’s name, their wife’s name, and their daughter’s name…the ones who were shot.

I am thinking of the man who tried to kill Ronald Reagan. I am thinking of the man who killed John Lennon. I am thinking of lots of people right now, but I am not going to say their names. We have heard them enough by now. Just for this one day….


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  • Zabelle D'Amico  On October 2, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    I think I still come down on the side of showing faces of criminals, but I strongly feel that our press (both newspaper and tv/cable) have gone crazy with repetitious coverage (both images and copy), to the point where criminal’s actions are too often glorified in a time when there’s a lot of crazy thinking. Scary.

  • Frits  On October 5, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    I think our dutch system is OK. It’s not perfect. What it does do is protect people that accused but by no means convicted from being recognised and seen as criminals when they aren’t necessarily. I’m less sure about the fact that convicted criminals get the same treatment. If you did a crime, people have a right to know who they should look out for

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