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Editor in Chief

Responding to a Journalistic Menace

Categories: Community, Journalism, Politics

By Greg Reaume

Managing Editor,

CBC News Coverage


Broadcast journalists face an array of professional challenges and obstacles on the job.  From nailing down facts and lining up the right interviews, to coping with unforeseen circumstances and deadline pressures.

Mostly these things are all in a day's work for CBC's well-trained staff.  But finding yourself the target of deliberate, public, outrageously-sexist verbal assaults while doing your job is a menace few journalists imagine having to face.

How to respond?  News organizations have struggled with that question ever since these odious assaults first started popping up.  As already indicated to our staff, the CBC takes this scourge seriously.  We stand full square behind our reporters, producers and camera operators who continue to handle these incidents with remarkable grace.

There are no easy answers.  We have consulted widely--with our field staff, our assignment editors, our employee unions, police, academic experts and other media organizations.  This process continues toward the goal of developing a comprehensive strategy including specific training programs to combat sexual harassment and other threats in the field.

In the meantime we have provided field staff with some basic safety guidelines and recommendations.  These include practical steps to help deter attacks and a reporting mechanism to ensure we have a detailed record of where and when all incidents occur. 

It is important to note that we recommend against our reporters openly confronting their assailants.  We respect it as a legitimate, completely understandable response to reprehensible behaviour.  But the safety and well being of our journalists in the field is paramount.  It's difficult to know how an extremely abusive person--possibly unstable or inebriated--might react to gestures perceived as challenging or provocative.  Based on the balance of opinion and expert advice received so far during our consultations, we feel the risk of escalating the situation into a potentially dangerous conflict is too great.

Second, some have suggested using social media to shame people caught in the act of assailing reporters in the field.  This tactic comes with its own perils and is highly contentious.  We recommend against it at this time.  While it might have some deterrent effect, it could also escalate matters in a way that would place our own reporter at risk.  It bears repeating: our primary focus has to be on the safety of CBC people in the field.

This is a complex, industry-wide problem, as we've made clear, with no quick and easy solutions.  All responsible broadcasters are grappling with it.  The CBC remains interested in liaising with other organizations to find effective approaches.

We all hope this repulsive "trend" eventually fizzles out.  We know the hurt and humiliation it has caused.  And let me say clearly we support, without reservation, the principled actions of all our dedicated, hard-working reporters, producers and camera operators having to deal with this sickening abuse.


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