Day 6

Media outlets must take stronger action against harassment of journalists, says former radio host

Supriya Dwivedi, a former Global News host who has endured sometimes violent harassment online, says that any statements in favour of protecting journalists from hate must include targeted action.

Supriya Dwivedi has endured sometimes violent harassment online. She wants policies that project journalists

Supriya Dwivedi is senior counsel at the public relations firm Enterprise Canada and a former radio host for Global News. She left her job as a host following regular harassment, which targeted her then 15-month-old daughter. (Enterprise Canada)

Women journalists and journalists of colour, including some working for CBC, are sharing the hateful, violent and racist messages they receive from members of the public on social media.

Though online harassment is hardly a new phenomenon — journalists have been sharing the inappropriate messages they have received for years — it has picked up in recent weeks.

Some have linked the increase to a tweet from the account of People's Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier shared last month. That tweet included the email addresses of several reporters and encouraged Bernier's followers to "play dirty" with journalists.

Twitter restricted Bernier's account for 12 hours in response to the tweet.

On Tuesday, a group of more than three dozen media organizations, including CBC/Radio-Canada, released a statement in support of journalists.

"While criticism is an integral part of journalism and democracy, there can be no tolerance for hate and harassment of journalists or for incitement of attacks on journalists for doing their jobs," read the statement. "That these attacks inordinately target women and racialized journalists speaks to the motivation of the people engaging in this behaviour."

Supriya Dwivedi, senior counsel for public relations firm Enterprise Canada and a former radio host for Global News, says that any statement against harassment must include targeted action. She spoke with Day 6 guest host Rachel Giese about her own experiences with online harassment — and how it changed her career.

Here is part of that conversation.

How would you describe what's happening right now? Some people have said this is a wave — is it a wave?

A wave in and of itself has to recede and come to the shore in one way or another. So I do think this likely represents a bit of an uptick, but I don't know if it represents a wave any more so than it does a constant, sort of background terribleness with a slight blip in terms of an increase.

And while I certainly do agree that there was likely an increase because of Bernier and because of his followers, I think it's a mistake to pin this solely on the People's Party and its supporters because hate and abuse has surely existed before Maxime Bernier became more or less a household name.

You quit your job as a journalist for Global News last year after you had been on the receiving end of hate-filled messages and threats. Can you describe what happened to you? 

I'm a racialized woman with an opinion, so I'm more than used to my share of hate mail, right?

I've been called a "feminazi" or a "paki c-word" more times than I can count…. I even had, at one point, a male co-host have to walk me to and from my car because of a rape threat that referenced the empty garage at the station, because I pulled into the garage in the wee hours of the morning as the morning show host.

To me, the line really was when the threats started to target my then 15-month-old daughter. It was a particularly vile message in which it was a rape threat directed at my daughter … and it was just too far. It was like the straw that broke the camel's back.

And it was clear to me at that point that the industry as a whole — to be fair, not just Corus or Global, but the industry as a whole — wasn't necessarily taking this sort of stuff seriously. And I wasn't about to roll the dice with my daughter's safety.

It was like feel-good pablum that a bunch of PR and senior leadership execs came up with that ends up making them feel better, but in the grand scheme of things doesn't actually improve things.- Supriya Dwivedi on the statement against online harassment released by media organizations 

How did it affect just how you were going about your day-to-day life, whether it was when you were at work or even at home with your family?

I stopped going out or meeting friends in very public places. I became very wary of crowds.

I remember in one instance somebody had asked if I was the journalist that they listen to in the morning, and I really thought twice and hesitated about confirming as to whether or not that was me because we were in a public place. I did not know this man. I wasn't sure whether or not I was going to be met with a smile or with something way, way worse.

So it does take a toll on you. It's not easy, and I think this is where media companies really do need to step up and offer things like paid time off, things like paid therapy or other supports for mental health, for their journalists. Because this kind of stuff isn't easy — and it's certainly not easy particularly when we all tend to live our lives, to some degree anyway, online on social media.

Many journalists, including some working for CBC, have shared their experiences with online harassment in recent days. (Matt Rourke/The Associated Press)

The statement this week … said Canadian media are united in support of journalists against online hate, threats and harassment. What did you make of that statement?

I thought it was like feel-good pablum that a bunch of PR and senior leadership execs came up with that ends up making them feel better, but in the grand scheme of things doesn't actually improve things.

One of the things they said is that together we will continue to advocate for industry-wide responses to end this behaviour. And it's just like, what? Like you're the industry, you realize that, right? You can put in actual policies in order to better protect your journalists from this kind of crap.

And one of the things that you've also pointed out is the need to look at the actual content that certain media outlets are producing. What did you mean by that?

Coming from talk radio, I understand that it is like the ground zero of hot takes or the inventor of the hot take. But you know, even the hottest of takes have to be grounded in reality.

So when you have talk radio that regularly allows demonstrably false information on air, hateful rhetoric on air, they have a responsibility for it.

They have not just been these unwilling participants — they engage in promoting some of this hateful rhetoric and their journalists end up on the receiving end of it.

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Pedro Sanchez. This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.

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