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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Limits of Newsroom Tolerance

Here in Canada, journalists are going through one of their regular rounds of moral outrage.

The issue this time is the government of Quebec. It has plans to introduce legislation which will restrict what all public servants may wear in the way of religious or cultural clothing or jewelry.

 It's called the Charter of Values and if enacted, will ban the wearing of turbans, kippas, burkas and ostentatious religious ornaments by anyone who works for the government.

This includes doctors (who are paid through the provincial healthcare plan). Teachers, civil servants and police would all come under the act, if passed by the legislature in Quebec City.

The government is doing this to encourage a collective identity, but it's true motive may be to rally their traditional base outside of Montreal at a time when the economy is shaky. The government does not have a majority in the provincial legislature and, as our American friends know all too well, values often trump economic interests.

Journalists in English Canada and in Quebec are united in opposing this idea. It smacks of intolerance, and racism. It seems designed to appeal to the core of the party by alienating the immigrant vote which doesn't support the government party anyway. 

Editorials inside and outside Quebec have denounced the idea. But the high dudgeon of journalists seems misplaced to me. 

We don't have reporters who wear kippas, turbans or burkas.

And if a Muslim woman in full covering applied for a reporter's position at a broadcaster, how would management handle that?

Will we ever see an Orthodox Jew, sidecurls streaming in the breeze, as he reports from outside City Hall in a howling snow storm?

I had a student in a journalism class a few years ago. She was wearing the burka, with only her eyes showing. She never spoke in class. After a few weeks, she disappeared.

In my experience, most highly observant students don't seem attracted to journalism. Is there a reason for that?

The dominant journalistic culture is welcoming to journalists of colour, but not to journalists of belief. The middle class values of news organizations send an unstated, yet powerful message that, like the government of Quebec, they don't particularly welcome journalists who are willing to express their differences so openly.   

1 comment:

  1. My sense is that fundamentalists aren't attracted to journalism because journalism is based on curiosity, establishing the facts, asking searching questions, giving context, and challenging authority. This is antithetical to the fundamentalist state of mind, which is based on faith not fact, following the rules, being unquestioningly obedient and respecting authority, not exactly the values espoused by J schools, the press and the media-in-general.