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Name and Shame is a worldwide game

Have you noticed how Naming and Shaming is the latest craze sweeping around the world? In olden days, law-abiding citizens imprisoned reprobates in stocks and hurled eggs and verbal abuse at them. Today, Laura Norder supporters punish mischief-makers and evildoers with Name and Shame ridicule.

The Naming and Shaming movement is rapidly gaining ground. Four days before the US Presidential election, John Kerry vowed to "keep Iran from becoming a nuclearized country" and to "take on Arab countries and name and shame those that fund terror."

Three weeks ago, the Police Department of Newport News, Virginia (US) paid $6000 for a two-page advertisement in the Daily Press in which it listed the names of nearly 4000 people wanted for outstanding warrants, including 1000 suspected of serious crimes such as murder, rape and robbery.

By next morning, police had arrested 64 suspects. Some of them had given themselves up after reading their names in the paper.

Publishers of N & S lists run a risk of damaging the reputations of innocent people. In the UK, after an eight-year-old girl had been abducted and murdered, a national newspaper "outed" thousands of known paedophiles, publishing their names, photographs, and home towns. But in its zeal to name and shame it mistakenly identified several innocent men.

Here are just a few examples of the way N & S is spreading:

On December 11, the Birmingham (UK) Post said that the city's booziest bars would be named and shamed in a Christmas crackdown on binge drinking. Dr Jacky Chambers, director of public health for the Heart of Birmingham Teaching Primary Care Trust, said they would name and shame any bar or club that became known as a binge drink den; "guilty" places would be reported to the licensing authorities, police and press.

In a single day last month:

  • The Belfast Telegraph (Northern Ireland) reported: "Prolific shoplifters are to be named and shamed by Belfast businesses as part of a crackdown on Christmas crime."
  • ran a story about an EU (European Union) proposal to name and shame firms breaching pesticide rules.
  • The Suffolk Evening Star in Ipswich, England launched its annual campaign to name and shame motorists convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The Manchester Evening News, which is running a similar campaign over the holiday period, said: "We intend our 'gallery of shame' as a daily reminder that the risk is not worth taking, both from a driver's point of view and in terms of wider public safety."

The N & S movement in the UK gained legal sanction two months ago, when the High Court ruled that Brent Council, in North London, had acted legally when it distributed thousands of pamphlets identifying by name a gang of seven teenagers. They were alleged to have tormented residents for two years by damaging windows, chasing workmen from an estate, stealing fuses and leaving elderly residents in darkness, committing assaults and intimidating cleaners, who had to be protected by security guards.

The BBC reported a few weeks ago that several local authorities have opened a telephone hotline to encourage the public to "name and shame" people making false claims for compensation.

In Limerick, Ireland, the Socialist Youth Party held a "Name and Shame picket" on Cruises Street, where they publicly named companies said to pay some of the lowest wages in the city. The owner of one business threatened to sue them.

The N & S craze has spread around the globe. In Singapore, ChannelNewsAsia reported: "MAS to name and shame errant financial institutions. The Monetary Authority of Singapore says financial institutions that have been punished for market-conduct issues will be publicly named on its website."

In South Africa, Cape Town (like Sydney) has had to introduce restrictions on the use of water, because of drought. On December 15, Waheed Patel, spokesman for city councillor for trading services Saleem Mowzer, said "We will name and shame them and expose people who are selfish and wasting our water supply. It is disrespectful to those who are saving and we will definitely name and shame them."

And the African National Council Youth League (ANCYL) in the Free State has threatened to name and shame municipal councillors driven by selfishness and "childish excitement of power". ANCYL said, "We wish to express our embarrassment and disillusion with how some of our elected public representatives have acted in executing the mandate and trust placed in them by our masses."

In New Zealand, the Department of Courts is threatening to publicly name people who fail to pay their fines. Last year, newspapers published the names of more than 2000 fine-dodgers.

"The so-called name and shame campaign resulted in more than $2 million in overdue fines collected," NewstalkZB reported. "This time, the guilty parties are being given a fortnight to pay up, or face the consequences. Letters are being sent out this week. Only those who owe fines of more than $500 are being targeted."

And a schoolmaster in Western Australia names and shames some of his pupils, according to this report in The Australian (Sydney):

Before lunch at Kalamunda Senior High School in the Perth hills, the chime of a xylophone introduces the formidable voice of acting deputy principal Graham Watson on the public address system.

Since a compulsory school uniform was introduced for all students last year, it has been the deputy principal's duty to "name and shame" students who have been seen dressed casually, not in full school uniform, or who have committed one of many other breaches such as having dyed hair, wearing makeup or too much jewellery, excessive use of ear rings, nose
rings, tungsten rings, etc. Those whose names are read out must report to detention for 20 minutes of silence.

Back in England, there's a website called Named and Shamed which offers cash prizes to people Naming and Shaming their fellows. Some of the contributions are so defamatory that it would be no surprise to see Named and Shamed being sued and booed.




Story first posted January 2005

Copyright 2005

Eric Shackle

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