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Now the Details

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

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Friday, May 15, 2015

Has Journalism Become Too Dangerous for Women?

City TV's Shauna Hunt Confronts the "Boys"
The recent high profile stupidity of a couple of drunken yahoos making crude and obnoxious remarks to female TV journalists in Toronto and Calgary has opened up a well-known but long avoided issue for women in newsrooms.

In effect, how to handle the recent spurt of hoser eruptions where crude and sexist comments are yelled on camera by men as female journalists try to do their jobs.

There have been sexual assaults on women journalists (notably CBS News' Lara Logan) reporting from Arab countries. They have been condemned by western media organizations. In the countries where the offense occurred, not so much. In the West, we smugly assumed that couldn't happen here. But in fact, a version of that (more verbal than physical but also revolting) has been happening here for a while.

Until now, the highest profile case of sexual harassment came out via the Jian Ghomeshi incident. That led a small delegation of my female students to ask if they should risk applying to the CBC for internships. I was surprised when they asked, but it was clear to them, that the CBC was a dangerous place to work. Worse, that management seemed not to care. I assured them that it was safe. I hope I'm right.

A number of women journalists have posted on Facebook about various incidents that happened to them. And it seems to be getting worse as media organizations cut back on staff. Now a reporter goes out with only a cameraperson, if she is lucky. Increasingly, the reporter is expected to shoot the visuals and report all on her own.

But why now? In fact, the gutsy response of Shauna Hunt from Toronto's City TV News brought the issue into prominence by her own willingness to confront the harasser (quickly fired by his employer).

So a couple of ideas: first, the prevalence of the digital culture with its tendency to anonymity has allowed for a higher level of public crudity. If you can say it online, why not in person? Isn't that part of  the digital democracy? Maybe it was always there. We are just able to witness it more than we once did.

Second, the pornification of popular culture has allowed for these attitudes to be expressed. I know I sound like a conservative on this. So be it.

Third, media organizations may talk a good game about supporting their employees, but in fact, as staff positions are replaced with freelance contractors, newsrooms are less inclined to provide the level of support they once did.

One female employee told me that as she was being harassed by a couple of drunken yobbos, her cameraman ran away to protect his gear, rather than the reporter. This would not happen if a field producer were there if the story was designated as a "dangerous assignment."

That might be something for the next round of union-management negotiations. But a more immediate response and solution is needed now.

1 comment:

  1. "Second, the pornification of popular culture has allowed for these attitudes to be expressed. I know I sound like a conservative on this. So be it."

    No apology necessary.