The scenes were shocking. In Ottawa, reporters were harassed, swarmed, and insulted by “Freedom Convoy” protesters occupying the city’s downtown. In Surrey, B.C., a camera crew was pushed and spat on by supporters of the protest against vaccine mandates.
The anger was palpable, along with the epithets.
Few Canadians realize that harassment and intimidation of journalists has become the new reality in this country. And that should matter to all of us. There is a direct connection between how people are informed of current events and how democracy functions.
Around the world, journalists have long found themselves the target of threats, assaults, and repression — usually at the hands of authoritarian governments. But now the threat is here, and it comes from some of our fellow Canadians.
Many journalists in Canada have been subject to harassment and even assault, including women receiving rape threats, simply for doing their job asking tough questions and reporting on daily events.
A November 2021 IPSOS survey found that more than seven in 10 media workers reported harassment in the past year, and 73 per cent reported that the harassment was increasing. The attacks are often sexist, misogynist, and racist, with industry-wide consequences.
A recent report by the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Canadian Journalism Foundation reveals the experience of journalists dealing with online hate. The report’s roundtable exchange by dozens of media workers, including freelancers, speaks to the growth of a toxic environment that should never be part of any workplace norm. The hard reality is that women and people of colour are often the most targeted by these forms of hate and intimidation. In some cases, the victims leave the profession.
We rely on journalists to hold those in power to account, be it elected representatives, business leaders, or decision-makers in civil society.
Whether it is uncovering the tragic situation in long-term care homes during COVID-19, or the unmarked graves at residential schools, or conflicts of interest of political leaders, the work of journalists is vital. They deserve our respect, and to be able to work in an environment free of fear, threats, violence, or harassment.
When reporters are harassed or threatened and feel afraid to file stories, both democracy and society are at risk.
On Tuesday, the world recognizes World Press Freedom Day. It is an important reminder that our understanding of the world around us is shaped by the ability of individuals to tell the stories of what they see, and that’s crucial to building a just and healthy society for all.
We call on all Canadians to respect the dignity and role of journalists as they carry out their vital work.
We call on all decision-makers to take the steps required to ensure the safety of media workers, and to ensure that adequate safety precautions are in place during their assignments
We encourage young people from every diverse community in our country to pursue journalism as a highly valued career, as we build a better Canada together.
We call on employers to ensure journalists have adequate training and protections in place to protect them from workplace harassment, whether at the office, in the field, or online.
If our political leaders and the public fail to see the severity of this problem, we’re left with half-stories, spin, or silence.
We all deserve better. We deserve civil discourse. We deserve facts. We deserve the full picture. We deserve multiple points of view that challenge us to think outside of our social media silos. We deserve as much information as possible to make informed decisions in a free and democratic society.
As journalism goes, so goes democracy.
John Cartwright (Council of Canadians), Jennifer Moreau (Unifor) and Martin O’Hanlon (CWA Canada) were writing on behalf of the following organizations: Canadian Association of Journalists; Canadian Journalists for Free Expression; Canadian Journalism Foundation; Council of Canadians; CWA Canada, The Media Union; Journalists for Human Rights; Unifor and World Press Freedom Canada, Canadian Anti-Hate Network.