Friday, 12 April 2013

A canned response, and evidence that at least we're not all bad

Yesterday morning I published "An open letter to The Toronto Star and Rosie Dimanno re: "Sexual assault case involving four female suspects a bizarre anomaly” and sent that content in an email to The Toronto Star and several other news outlets. Last night, at about 5 o'clock, I got a canned response from the editor:

Dear [to start off, she spelled my name wrong. This is a form letter! The only thing she had to put in was my name and she spelled it wrong! ]  
I am writing in response to your concern about Rosie DiManno’s April 9 column on the alleged sexual assault on a young man by four women. 
DiManno is an opinion columnist for the Toronto Star. Her column falls within her role as a popular columnist who expresses strong, often controversial, opinions that sometimes offend. Columnists at the Star are given wide latitude to express their opinions. But columnists always speak for themselves, not for the Toronto Star. Only editorials, which are published on the editorial page, express the views of the Star as an organization. 
The Star believes in the widest possible expression of free speech, in line with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Star’s policy manual states that:  “Columnists and Op-Ed writers have wide latitude to express their own views in the Star, including views directly contrary to the Star’s editorial views, as long as they fall within the boundaries of good taste and the laws of libel.”As public editor of the Star, it is outside the scope of my role to weigh in on whether the views of any opinion columnist are “fair” “appropriate”  or “in good taste”  While I as an individual, and the Star as institution, do not agree with every opinion expressed by columnists, in the Star and sometimes vehemently disagree with some columnist’s views on some subjects, I will always defend any opinion columnist’s freedom to express views some readers might find offensive or even repugnant. 
Taste is always a subjective matter and a judgment call for newsroom editors seeking to balance questions of sensitivity of subject matter with the imperative for free expression for opinion writers and the desire not to demand conformity from columnists.  Certainly the best columnists often do enrage and offend. In doing so they can provoke public discussion of important  issues – as this column certainly has.  On that regard, I expect the Star will publish a selection of the opinions of readers who disagree with DiManno’s opinion and the manner in which she expressed her views. 
I have now had opportunity to discuss your concerns with senior newsroom editors. They tell me they gave careful consideration to this column prior to its publication and believe that the column is fairly done and falls within the bounds of fair comment and the Star’s policy’s for columnists.  
While I personally appreciate and understand your points about sexual assault and gender, I agree the column is in line with the Star’s policies and is indeed fair comment.  
Best Regards, 
Kathy English
Kathy English/Public Editor
Toronto Star/www.thestar.com
416-869-4950 

Turns out, this is the exact same response copied & pasted to several other people who had written their own letters to the editors. Here's why it's bullshit - for starters, the form letter states that sometimes their opinion columns are controversial and offensive. Sure, I get that. The issue is not that I'm "offended". The issue is that the column is outright mocking a survivor of sexual violence, which has the very real impact of discouraging people from reporting crimes of sexual violence. This article could very well discourage this particular survivor from going forward with helping the police with this investigation. This article could very well keep other young men attacked by these women from coming forward. After reading this, who would want to admit that they, too, had been attacked in this same manner?

Another reason why it's bullshit - freedom of speech? What is this, an argument on Youtube? "I will always defend any opinion columnist’s freedom to express views some readers might find offensive or even repugnant" Here's the thing - freedom of speech does not guarantee one a platform or a paycheque. As much as the editor and The Toronto Star would like to distance themselves from the content that they publish, they are literally supporting every single word they publish by virtue of paying the authors whose words are "offensive". Refusing to print an article that degrades survivors of sexual violence doesn't go against freedom of speech, because Rosie is free to self-publish and to stand out on a soapbox on Yonge & Dundas and spout her opinions there. 

And the argument that this conversation will be balanced out because "I expect the Star will publish a selection of the opinions of readers who disagree with DiManno’s opinion and the manner in which she expressed her views", is disingenuous at best. Readers' letters to the editor are hidden away in the backpages and nether reaches of the website. Rosie Dimanno has prime real estate. No response from regular readers will have the same reach as her original column, because The Toronto Star doesn't afford them that kind of visibility. 

Speaking of disingenuous, "I have now had opportunity to discuss your concerns with senior newsroom editors. They tell me they gave careful consideration to this column prior to its publication and believe that the column is fairly done and falls within the bounds of fair comment and the Star’s policy’s for columnists". You sent me back a form letter. I am disinclined to believe you.


The entire letter just comes across as really unaware. This is a letter from one of the countries largest newspapers. This paper has influence. Words matter. This isn't just some small online publication with 9 followers *cough*Although those can be pretty amazing, too*cough*. The Toronto Star boasts to companies that look at advertise with them that "Approx 40% of Canadians live in Ontario and The Toronto Star is the #1 online Newspaper in Ontario". It is reasonable to expect, then, that The Toronto Star has a lot of power in informing and influencing the public, including when they post articles wrought with rape myths and minimizing the impact sexual violence has on its victims. 

As a wise man once said, "With great power, comes great responsibility." Either The Toronto Star needs to recognize that power and responsibility, or admit to readers and advertisers that they're greatly exaggerating their influence. You can't have it both ways.

On the plus side, I can see I'm not the only one taking them to task. Here, as food for your soul, check out some other people who have picked up the fight against this dreadful example of victim degradation in the media:






I believe there are very likely many more, these were just the results of a quick Google search this morning.

Now, my brain needs a break, so here's a big putty tat.



2 comments:

  1. Well done. I am pleased to see people are not letting this matter rest.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just wanted to add a comment giving praise to you & support of what you do.
    Annd I really don't know what to write because it sounds ridiculous when I type it out sooo... I really like your blog and am happy to add it to my daily-ish readings of feminist awesomeness ! ^_^

    ReplyDelete