The overwhelming majority of respondents reported that online harassment is the biggest threat to journalists (90 percent of US respondents and 71 percent of Canadian respondents).
A decreasing sense of safety amongst the Canadian media
By Matthew Fraser, Editor in Chief
On November 9, Ipsos polling released the results of an online survey of Canadian journalists and other media personnel. The survey was conducted between September 27 and October 13 with over 1000 respondents. The answers provided uncovered unsettling levels of bullying experienced by the respondents.
The report as posted on the Ipsos website shows that seven in ten respondents were harassed online in the preceding year. 34 percent of the respondents said online harassment occurred monthly or more often while 35 percent reported no instances of online harassment. The remaining respondents had been harassed once every two to three months or slightly less often than that.
73 percent of respondents believed that online harassment had increased in the past two years but increases were also reported in phone-based, physical and in-person harassment. However, the nature of the online harassment was very abrasive. 34 percent reported receiving sexualized images or messages as well as rape/sexual assault threats while 30 percent reported receiving threats of a physical nature. Nearly a quarter of respondents received threats directed at their gender identity and just under a fifth received threats aimed at their ethnicity or nationality.
When asked to explain the factors leading to or cited during these instances of harassment, the journalists cited media climate and accusations of being “fake news” (77 percent), attacks on their media employer (72 percent), the angle used in their stories (64 percent), alongside feelings related to COVID-19 (55 percent).
These findings mirror a September 2019 analysis by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ report focused on 115 female or gender non-conforming journalists in the US and Canada. The overwhelming majority of respondents reported that online harassment is the biggest threat to journalists (90 percent of US respondents and 71 percent of Canadian respondents). Sexual harassment ranked high with 35.3 percent of Canadian respondents listing it, while 49 percent of Americans surveyed reported it. At that time, 84 percent believed that journalism as a profession had become less safe in the past few years versus the four percent who felt it was safer.
One salient example of this decrease in perceived safety occurred in September when the Peoples Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier tweeted the contact information of three Canadian journalists. According to CBC, Bernier’s tweet was followed by a 12-hour suspension from Twitter. In the tweet, Bernier referred to the three journalists as “idiots” and suggested his followers “play dirty” with them.
Christy Somos, one of the journalists targeted, would later release screenshots of her email inbox following Bernier’s tweet. One such email expressed sexual violence towards Somos and urged her to kill herself. Ahmar Khan—another journalist Bernier exposed—received messages expressing both anti-semitic and Islamophobic stances.
As both polarization and media mistrust increase, the continued safety of Canadian journalists may be further jeopardized.