‘A meaningful industry response’: Canadian media needs to confront racist, misogynistic abuse

A spate of hate mail targeting journalists, namely women of colour, has many news organizations vowing to push for long overdue action to protect staff

The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau chief Denise Balkissoon has received misogynistic and racist hate mail throughout her career. Last week was no exception.

“Audiences that disagree with you, who are even a bit rude when they disagree, that does come with the job,” Denise says. “But the type of targeted harassment that journalists face today — especially racialized women — is not classic snarky feedback. It’s ugly, and it’s meant to scare us away from our jobs. And it works. It’s one of the reasons that women of colour in senior positions in this industry are so scarce.”

Journalists have increasingly become targets of online abuse and harassment. A Sept. 22 tweet by Maxime Bernier, encouraging his 160,000 followers to “play dirty,” appears to have incited further abusive behaviour. The People’s Party of Canada leader proceeded to share the emails of journalists who had been reporting on the links between his party and far-right groups.

It took several hours for Twitter to respond to complaints about Bernier’s troubling behaviour. The social media platform suspended his account for 12 hours, but that did little to prevent the email addresses from circulating, including in white supremacist chatrooms. Threats flooded inboxes of reporters at The Narwhal, Global News, CTV News and The Hill Times.

Tech platforms, governments and police forces all need to do a whole lot more to address these vile threats. But as Denise notes, so do news organizations, including The Narwhal. Otherwise we’ll continue to have an industry that doesn’t reflect Canada’s diversity, resulting in a failure to fully and fairly report on racialized communities. We’d also be abdicating our job to protect the wellbeing of those tasked with bringing you the news.

“White, male editors have been brushing this off and telling us to develop thicker skins for too long,” Denise says. “I hope that this is the beginning of a meaningful industry response. I do believe it’s up to the big organizations with the most resources to lead this. That said, we at The Narwhal are here to support each other, and we’re going to help our reporters deal with it, and stay focused on doing the great work they’re known for.”

Our leadership team is discussing what concrete steps we can take to prevent our staff from being exposed to these attacks in the first place, while also supporting them when they are targeted.

And we’re standing with numerous news organizations who are committing to advocating for an industry-wide response.

“These are coordinated campaigns that strive to undermine the freedom of the press,” Canadian Association of Journalists president Brent Jolly said. “It’s a disturbing reality that being a journalist in Canada has become a hazardous occupation. That’s why we look forward to working with news organizations, and others … to ensure that the safety and security of journalists are protected — and these perpetrators of hate are held accountable.”

Take care and fight against hate,

Arik Ligeti
Audience engagement editor

Meet a Narwhal

Those incisive thoughts Denise shared about the journalism industry? Well, she shared many more in this Q&A with assistant editor Josie Kao.

“The message from legacy media throughout my career has been that only certain stories told by certain people in certain ways will draw an audience. But every time I’ve ignored that, I’ve found a very big and enthusiastic audience that’s been waiting for meaningful and relevant journalism.”

We are so lucky to have Denise on our team, helping us tell more stories about — and for — audiences that have too often been ignored and are bearing the brunt of impacts caused by the climate crisis.

This week in The Narwhal

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Over the past five years, at least 19 invoices totalling about $3.27 million have gone unpaid by companies operating in Alberta’s oilsands. Read more.

Talk of potential sale of Teck coal mines prompts concerns about contamination in B.C.’s Elk Valley

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By Ainslie Cruickshank

Observers worry a sale or spinoff of sprawling coal mines in the southeastern corner of the province could mean fewer resources devoted to decades of cumulative selenium pollution. Read more.

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When your friends are having a hard time battling racism and misogyny in the media, give them a hug and tell them to sign up for our newsletter for more moral support.

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