Journalism experts say press threats during protests are a wake-up call | national

In video from Ottawa, a broadcaster stares at the camera in silence as protesters surround him and shout swear words, calling him a liar and yelling “freedom.”

Near the US border in Surrey, British Columbia, a cameraman’s equipment is pushed off his shoulder and two men spit on him. A protester closely follows another reporter, shouting that he is a ‘disgusting, filthy human being’, as police escort the reporter through a mocking crowd.

Experts and advocates say the treatment of journalists, captured in many cases on video, during recent protests against public health measures should be a wake-up call.

“What I’ve seen in the past two days is absolutely sickening,” Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said in an interview Sunday.

“That’s what happens when you have your brain clouded by misinformation.”

Journalists are currently working in a difficult situation unprecedented in Canada, he said, with threats being leveled against the press online and in person.

The degree of hostility and the targets placed on the backs of journalists are of particular concern, and the psychological consequences can be significant, he said.

Solving the problem will require a long-term solution that involves a multi-pronged approach. Editorial organizations need to beef up security, digital training, and safeguards. Social media companies should review the role they play in facilitating a ‘toxic sludge of speech’, he said, as police consider whether their plans and enforcement are appropriate for a digital world .

Government also has a role to play, and Jolly urged Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to take seriously the responsibility outlined in his mandate letter to tackle serious forms of harmful online content.

While footage of the attacks is important for documenting what happened, there is also a danger that it will galvanize further abuse among those who believe they will face impunity, he warned. .

“We have to take this as a lesson,” Jolly said. “I think we were lucky that nothing worse happened.”

Jolly is not alone in sounding the alarm over attacks on press freedom.

Josh Greenberg, director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University, said the tenor and tone of the protests resembled those in the United States and some European countries in recent years.

Most reporters would say they were the butt of blame and hate, but Greenberg said something had changed.

“The level of vitriol directed at the media in particular, which slowly boiled below the surface and unseen, certainly surfaced and became very visible,” he said.

Interactions posted online tend to involve Caucasian male journalists, and Greenberg wondered what the implications might be for young Black, Indigenous or Colored female journalists.

“BIPOC’s young reporters experience far more vitriol than their white counterparts,” he said.

Greenberg called for a pause to consider the risks to Canadian democracy when threats are directed at those whose job it is to report on its twists and turns.

Paul Knox, a retired journalism professor at Ryerson University, echoed his concern for non-white, non-male journalists.

The impact can be more severe when attacks focus on a journalist’s identity characteristics and raise fears that this could push some who already belong to underrepresented groups out of the industry.

There has been a decline in trust in the news media over the past 20 or 30 years, but it’s not universal, he added.

“There’s still a pretty good core of people who realize that a lot of what journalists do is essential, that it’s valuable, and that the people who do it do it because they feel that’s why. ‘they were put on Earth,’ Knox said. noted.

“All the anger and hatred that we see against individual journalists is truly out of place and corrosive.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 21, 2022.

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