“I am thrilled and not thrilled to be here tonight.”
Those were some of the first words said by CBC Radio’s Piya Chattopadhyay during Tuesday’s J-Talks session at the TMX Broadcast Centre in Toronto.
The event, “No Safe Space: Harassment of Women in Media” was held by The Canadian Journalism Foundation. The foundation started J-Talks events back in 2003 and the series brings coverage and insight to a wide variety of issues that journalists face both inside and outside the workplace.
The event aimed to discuss “the hazards of being a female journalist online and the policies and resources that can help make newsrooms and online communities welcoming to all.” Although no one “enjoys” talking about the harassment of women in media, it’s an omnipresent issue that must be discussed in order for change to be implemented.
Chattopadhyay was the moderator for the evening. She was joined on stage by a panel consisting of Toronto Star staff columnist Heather Mallick, the Globe and Mail’s Janet McFarland, and VICE.com Canada’s senior writer, Manisha Krishnan.
The audience consisted of around 60 people, with the vast majority of attendees being female. One of the first questions Chattopadhyay asked the panel was to discuss their personal experiences with harassment in media.
Mallick was first to comment. She discussed how, after appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show years ago, she received numerous threats and mean comments both online and over the phone.
“I’m isolated now. I don’t answer my phone in the newsroom [and] I don’t open mail unless I know who it’s from,” she said. “It has isolated me as a journalist. I communicate much less than I used to.”
McFarland also talked about how her experience with cruel comments made her avoid interacting with others on social media. She said she didn’t experience media harassment until social media became more popular.
She stated how she’s written for decades as a journalist, but “had not received one abusive comment” until she wrote about issues such as why there aren’t more women in leadership and on boards, as well as the gender pay gap.
The most shocking stories came from Krishnan. She disclosed that once she started writing opinion pieces on racism, the harassment “ramped up”. She received death threats on her cellphone and discovered that someone had made a fake Facebook profile of her, calling her a transvestite.
Although many of Krishnan’s coworkers told her to report these incidents to the police, Krishnan didn’t go forward with it.
“I’m one to downplay things a bit,” she stated.
Chattopadhyay would also weigh in on the issues she brought up to the panel. She stated that her approach to harassment in the media is either, “to kill them with kindness,” or to not engage with the cruel commentary. But Chattopadhyay later commented, “if I stay silent, isn’t that putting the burden on other female journalists?”
During the event, the women discussed issues pertaining to engaging or enraging with people’s negative comments towards them in the media, what their organizations are doing to protect them and what still needs to be improved upon.
“No one is ever rewarded or encouraged to complain,” said McFarland.
According to McFarland, the Globe and Mail has human resource policies on abuse, and Krishnan said that VICE recently implemented an employee assistance program where workers can call in to get advice on their situation and further assistance if necessary. As of right now, the Star doesn’t have an outlet for women to speak out about media abuse they may receive as journalists.
For the last half-hour of the event, the audience was encouraged to ask questions to the panel. Numerous women and a few men asked an array of questions regarding abuse in the media, but they all seemed to relate to the underlying question of “where do we go from here?”
“This is never going to go away, so we need to deal with this problem,” said Mallick.
“We do need to keep talking about it until a change happens,” said Krishnan.
Chattopadhyay ended the discussion with a simple piece of advice for all audience members to follow while talking to their coworkers the next day: “just say how you went to this thing yesterday and spread the word. There’s sixty people here, that’s sixty conversations started.”
For more information on the J-Talks series and upcoming sessions, visit http://cjf-fjc.ca/j-talks/current.