Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowledge, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

Journalists, protests and Blatchford

Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford offered her thoughts on why she has no sympathy for “self-anointed journalists” who had a tough go of it during the G20 Summit on June 26 and 27.

I offer my thoughts as to why she misses the point and raise a few other issues for discussion.

From The Globe and Mail:

I am all in favour of their complaints, and anyone else’s, being investigated, and I reserve my opinion on how well they were treated by the authorities, or not, until that verdict is in.

But let us not pretend that these folks are working journalists or that they are the equivalent. They aren’t, for the most part.

Their work isn’t subject to editing or lawyering or the ethical code which binds, for example, the writers at The Globe. The websites on which they appear don’t belong, as do most reputable newspapers in this province, to the Ontario Press Council, a body which hears complaints against traditional journalists and publications.

We in the mainstream media make plenty of mistakes and bad calls, even given the safeguards (layers of editors and other sets of eyes reading our copy; lawyers too, in some instances; established standards) that are in place. Why should an alternative journalist (self-anointed, often with a demonstrable political agenda) be automatically assumed to be an infallible truth-teller or always accurate?

Second, the press pass doesn’t grant even traditional journalists carte blanche access everywhere.

In the midst of a riot, it is not a shield that can be waved to keep either police or rioters at bay. It is neither an avoid-jail nor get-out-of-jail-free card. …

Thus, in the G20 protests, journalists, real or self-appointed, traditional or otherwise, had no special rights to go where we wanted and no special badge of protection against arrest.

Oh dear.

Yes, Blatchford is right. If you’re covering a protest gone wrong, either as a mainstream journalist with a brand-name organization or as a pseudo-journalist for an activist group, there are risks. If police are indiscriminately using force or detaining people, then chances are you might get whacked or snatched.

One of those who got arrested and hosted overnight in Torontonamo Bay is Farzad Fatholahzadeh, a CTV News colleague who was working as a producer for News Channel when the police arrested him on June 26.

Usually that sort of thing happens more in Iran, the country of his birth. Here’s two tweets he made on July 1:

1. #g20 journalists: Were you arrested or beaten? Fill out Canadian Journalists for Freedom of Expression survey http://www.cjfe.org/releases

Here’s the CFJE list so far:

  • Two National Post photographers Brett Gundlock and Colin O’Connor were arrested and charged;
  • Freelance journalist Jesse Rosenfeld was beaten and arrested by police;
  • Liem Vu, an intern with the National Post, and Lisan Jutras, a Globe and Mail journalist, were among those detained for four hours at Queen and Spadina;
  • Real News journalist Jesse Freeston was punched in the face by a police officer;
  • Torontoist journalist Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy was struck by a police officer with a baton;
  • Video journalist Brandon Jourdan was thrown to the ground and beaten by police.

2. Canadian Civil Liberties Union is working on petition for #g20 action. Send email to g20petition@ccla.org

The cameraman working with CTV News’ Lisa LaFlamme at the infamous June 27 “kettling” incident at Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue got snatched out of the crowd by police before cooler heads prevailed.

Lisan Jutras, who writes a social media column for The Globe and Mail and was caught up in the kettling, wrote the following: “I was not let go because I was media. They didn’t even look at my credentials before cuffing me. No one looked at them once.”*

* Here are some tweets she made in the wake of her article:

Someone presuming I was a freelancer for the Globe and therefore untrustworthy in my account.

Someone saying that I should have left because I knew it was going to be dangerous. So media should leave all danger zones?

Someone presuming to know my political stance and because they did not agree with it, suggesting I was untrustworthy.

None of this is relevant at all. Nor are the jobs or political leanings of anyone who was detained and arrested there unlawfully.

What does it matter that Fatholahzadeh and the cameraman  were there as paid professionals and not as “self-anointed journalists?” What does it matter if Jutras was there on her own time?

If you’re prepared to run the risk of personal harm to document a major event in a community’s history, I tip my hat to you.

Now, if you want to call yourself a journalist and you’re in the middle of a protest gone bad, what are your responsibilities?

  • First and foremost, you’re there to honestly bear witness. That means you’re an observer, not a participant
  • You should stay out of the way of police as much as possible and allow them to do their work
  • Accept that riot-like situations are serious business for the police. Seriousness of purpose should also be driving you (i.e. Wanting to there because riots are cool isn’t the right reason)
  • Accept that there is a risk you’ll be hurt or detained — or both
  • The risk of harm can come from police, but it can sometimes come from demonstrators

Veteran reporter John Camp, writing at MinnPost, offers eight tips for how to cover a riot. Some of his key points:

  • Learn how to walk backwards
  • Always know where the “little assholes” are
  • Know where the police are at all time
  • Don’t mess with riot cops during a riot

Here’s a quote from his advice on how to deal with police:

Be polite. Smile. If you need to talk to them, look for a guy with stripes, or a silver bar or two. You gotta remember, the cops get scared and angry, too.

While we do have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (pay particular attention to sections 7 through 10) and whatnot, the police are charged with the responsibility of restoring order in situations where it has broken down. There’s a cute little legal euphemism I’ve heard used in assault trials where self-defence is an issue: “Measure to nicety.”

What that means is if you’re being attacked by someone, you don’t have the right to beat them within an inch of their life, but neither do you have to “measure to nicety” the amount of force you need to use to eliminate the threat in the heat of that moment.

Police in volatile situations get a fair bit of leeway from the law in determining how much force to use. Conduct yourself accordingly. Stay cool while things are heating up.

At the same time, a police badge isn’t a free pass to do whatever the hell one wants in a high-stress situation. In a democratic society with the rule of law, the police have to be held answerable for their conduct. That’s why it’s so important to have independent, impartial witnesses to such events as the G20 Summit chaos.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said Friday that he doesn’t feel a public inquiry is needed into how the police handled themselves during the G20 Summit.

That’s his call, but I suspect this issue isn’t going away any time soon.

Addenda

Justin S. Beach blogged the following on Blatchford on July 3: The state of journalism in the wake of the #G20

Some largely anonymous blogger, using the name Harebell and posting at Voice from the Pack, had this on July 4: Blatchford stops swooning over uniforms and powerful men long enough to carry some more water

Ryerson j-student Scaachi Koul wrote an Open Letter to Christie Blatchford excoriating her for viewing journalists/ism through the prism of credentialism.

Doug Saunders, European bureau chief for The Globe and Mail, offered these thoughts via Twitter on July 4:

  • DougSaunders @billdinTO Crucial piece of riot-covering practice: Always be near edge of street; never find yourself in the middle, have clear escape path
  • DougSaunders @billdinTO Also, vis a vis those photographers: Don’t disguise yourself as a black bloqiste & ditch ID unless you want to end up like them.

Further to Saunders’ points, I offer this anecdote. In the spring of 1986, Edmonton was gripped by a strike at the Gainers meat-packing plant, then owned by Peter Pocklington. He was also the then-owner of the Edmonton Oilers.

Pocklington was trying to break the strike by busing in scabs. This led to scenes as ugly as what we saw here in Toronto, as striking workers battled the company and police.

One Edmonton Journal intern, who was remain nameless (no, it wasn’t me!) went to cover the strike one day. He was dressed in slaughterhouse-quality attire and carrying his lunch in an industrial lunchbox. He had no visible media ID and had the cab drop him off right outside the gate where the strikers were swarming.

The strikers took one look at him,  yelled, “Scab!!” and proceeded to pummel him.

I don’t know if you read John Camp’s piece, but he advises reporters to dress middle-class for these events — not too up (agitates the rioters), but not too down (agitates the cops). Good advice.

Camp also had this observation:

If you’re really going to get your ass whipped, it’ll more likely be by the cops than by the protesters, because the cops are better at it.

Some other reading:

On June 28, Christopher Watt posted Scenes from a Kettling at OpenFile.

Here is a June 30 article posted at Toronto Media Co-op by Lacey MacAuley – The Story of My Arrest & Detainment: Police strangled me, punched me in head, manhandled me

On June 30, Cinders McLeod, a Globe and Mail design editor, wrote a first-person account of her June 27 experience when police moved in on a crowd of demonstrators outside Torontonamo Bay.

Here’s a hysterical screed against Blatchford – Christie Blatchford vs. ‘real’ journalism, by someone courageously posting under the handle of Rev. Paperboy.

Sun, July 4 2010 » Main Page, Media

4 Responses

  1. Need to keep it confidential July 4 2010 @ 8:47 pm

    Blatchford may talk about the editing and ethical code that binds writers at the Globe, but the fact is that she’s burned her bridges pretty well everywhere by throwing a shitfit whenever some hapless desker touches so much as a comma.

  2. Bill D July 4 2010 @ 9:22 pm

    A classic journalism joke is one about an editor going to hell, with an orientation stop in purgatory.

    There, some demon is showing her some options for how she can spend eternity.

    She looks behind door 1, and it’s some poor editor pounding in sports agate on a burning keyboard, and every time he makes a mistake, the flames boil higher.

    Behind door 2, an editor is editing some high-strung arts columnists’s latest effort. Every time he makes even the tiniest change, the columnist goes ballistic and screams in his ear about how stupid and incompetent he is.

    Door 3 wasn’t so bad. An editor is lying on a chaisse lounge. Reporters are feeding her grapes, fanning her with a palm leaf and telling her she’s a genius.

    The editor asked if she could have Door 3.

    “No,” said the demon. “That’s reporter hell.”

  3. rev.paperboy July 23 2010 @ 10:17 am

    “hysterical screed” is a bit over the top, don’t you think Bill? After all, I pretty much put the lie to this bit of “hysterical” malarky by Blatchford:

    “But let us not pretend that these folks are working journalists or that they are the equivalent. They aren’t, for the most part.

    Their work isn’t subject to editing or lawyering or the ethical code which binds, for example, the writers at The Globe. The websites on which they appear don’t belong, as do most reputable newspapers in this province, to the Ontario Press Council, a body which hears complaints against traditional journalists and publications.”

    By pointing out that the four people she was disparaging were very much working journalists who were, for the most part (three out of four of them) subject to editing and legal oversight. I wouldn’t expect they would be bound by the same ethics as Globe reporters like Blatchford, since they were out actually cover the story and getting the facts while she sat on her ass in the office and apparently invented her information or just retyped police press releases.
    The mention of the Press Council is a nice bit of misdirection too – since none of them worked for Ontario-based newspapers why would they belong to the Press Council. Broadcast outlets don’t and neither do magazines.

    And if you had bothered to read my entire post you’d have realized that I am an experienced newspaper guy, and therefore know better than to publicly bitch about a prominent celebrity columnist at the Globe if I ever hope to work in the Toronto media. I’m hardly the first to use a pen name in the blogosphere.

  4. Bill D July 27 2010 @ 12:11 am

    Sigh.

    I did read your whole post, rev.paperboy.

    Since I’ve basically moved on from the “who’s a journalist” debate, I found myself underwhelmed by your fevered attack on Blatchford.

    Shooting fish in a barrel while ignoring tougher targets.

    And actually, have you read some of my columns critical of Margaret Wente’s nonsensical writings on climate?

    I write under my own name. If that means never working in this town again, so be it.

    Employed cowards don’t impress me much.

    Bill D.

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