Denise Balkissoon joins to talk about how insecure employment impacts journalism, why we need to say her name, and why there’s no “Canadian angle” on Ferguson.

Episode Rundown 

[00:00:24] “So what do you do? You’re a freelance writer.” Jesse

“Yes, usually I say freelance journalist. And the Editor and Chief of the Ethnic aisle.” Balkissoon

“What’s the ethnic aisle?” Jesse

“It’s a blog about race and ethnicity in Toronto.” Balkissoon

“Alright, and you write for the Globe and the Mail.” Jesse

“I write for the Globe. I write for Toronto Life. I write for Today’s Parent.” Balkissoon

“Gender politics, real estate and race.” Jesse

[00:01:15] “The insane press scrum, so I guess we are going about Jian for a bit.” Jesse

[00:01:59] “The one about choking apparently carries a potential life sentence, that’s I guess is something.” Balkissoon talks about Overcome resistance – choking

“That one was interest to me because you know before I heard those charges. I was really not sure, I have some idea who the three criminal complainants and I was not sure if any of them were serious. I mean they are all serious but the more extreme charges that we’re aware of physical harm.  I wasn’t sure if that was part of what the cops had and it looks like it is.” Jesse

[00:02:37] “No one at the CBC has taken the slightest bit of responsibility and everyone still has the same jobs, except for Arif Noorani who was shuffled around. Nobody at the CBC has answered the question…Ghomeshi alleged on that facebook post, which has disappeared which may have been a condition of his settlement with the CBC. On that facebook post he alleged that the CBC gave him the option of walking away after he showed them evidence he brutalized a woman. He say’s they said ok, why don’t you say you quit and your dad just passed away, every will buy that and we won’t out you. And that’s his allegation and they haven’t denied it and the truth is it possibly lying about a lot of stuff. There are lawyers when that would’ve happened so I find it hard to believe that he was lying about that so did the CBC executives actually collude with him to cover this whole thing up. Why is no one asking that question and why have we not heard any answers?” Jesse

[00:03:54] Linden (Macintyre) he basically decided to use the momentum of his retirement not to just get a big gold watch but to make a point about celebrity culture and toxic work culture at the CBC, and about vulnerable workers at the CBC. And you know he had this unfortunate sentence where he kind of listed Ghomeshi and Mansbridge in the same sentence and nobody but Mansbridge and those affiliated with him actually took offence. Nobody reading that would rationally think obviously Linden is saying Mansbridge punches women in the face, nobody drew that conclusion. But he misspoke a little bit and that incited all these responses from Neil Macdonald and Amanda Lang and all these people and so that what the press is focused on. Kelly Mcparland at the National Post says this is a nasty picker fest, a catfight at the CBC. And Vinay Menon at the Star just dismissed the whole thing, It’s trash talking, it’s unseemly, he doesn’t like the tone. And Doyle at the Globe says where are grown ups at the CBC?” Jesse

“They don’t like the tone but they don’t want to about the other part. I mean the post that he had on Huffington Post had was really really long. So you don’t only need to talk about the part about celebrity.” Balkissoon

[00:05:08] “The role of celebrity, especially in a workplace like the CBC. Where the power of celebrity is undiminished but the vulnerability of people in the system, the temporary workers, the interns, the junior producers, everybody ambitious and job security diminishing that the gap in hierarchy is opening up.” Linden Macintrye

[00:06:23] “The whole point of what Linden was trying to make about vulnerable workers completely got overshadowed. And then the got on this high horse about the CBC infighting does the broadcaster no favours. And this is playing into the hands of the CBC enemies but bringing up this issue.” Jesse

“Well they are just extremely emotional right now and it’s just showing. And it’s funny that part cause you say the vulnerable worker part didn’t get noticed which is true…But also the part about the fact that the government is been chipping away at what was once a very useful public institution for years, decades and that also got overshadowed and you know it’s one of those chicken and egg things like we saw with the all the Rob Ford coverage is who’s really creating the soap opera here. Why are people paying attention to the policy issues, why are they paying attention to the Iron Shiek at city hall.  Well why are you sending twelve reports there and not to strategic policy meeting. So whose fault is it really that it turned into gossip and not discussion about what the CBC could or should be.” Balkissoon

“You make a great point, the media focuses like laser like focus on this Macintyre vs Mansbridge aspect. Leaving out all the important points that were made. And then says why are we talking about this Macintyre vs Mansbridge thing, let’s move on. This isn’t doing the CBC any favours.” Jesse

[00:08:08] “There are whispers about um… They aren’t whispers, It’s know Mansbridge can be a bit of a dick to people he works with. Nothing near what is said about Ghomeshi. And what is the message to somebody that might have a complaint about Mansbridge if they are willing to throw Linden Macintyre under the bus.” Jesse

[00:09:06] “It’s also getting harder as a freelancer to do important stories, investigative stories, deeper dig stories for a number of reasons. And so one of the reason I assume that you went to collaborate with the Star is because we don’t have lawyers. And we could get lawyers but they are quite expensive. So there is a freelancer in BC, I guess her names was Laura Robinson. And she wrote a story for the Georgia Straight and got hit with libel suit and I think it almost bankrupted her if that’s right.” Balkissoon.

“I believe so and it’s worth noting that the libel suit which looks like we will see if it turns out to be a baseless libel suit that is un-winnable but is just there as a slapp suit. It was originally filed against the Georgia Straight who she wrote for and Robinson and then the suit against the Straight was dropped. And they went right after the freelancer and the Georgia Straight wouldn’t protect her and said oh this is a freelancer, we don’t protect our freelancer’s. Which to me calls into question the very like purpose of having a Masthead. And they even impugn her journalism and say she didn’t do her homework, well then why did you publish it?” Jesse

Robinson is actually countersuing John Furlong for damages against her. The trial date is for June 15, 2015, there is a defence fund for Robinson also.

“Well the new Toronto Star contract, it’s not new, it’s about two years old right now. Does not cover freelancers for lawsuits and libel. I think on the part of the Star, that’s as you say not really great journalism, let alone business practices. And then as more and more journalism in this country is done by freelance works or contract workers. It really just means a lot of stories are going to slide. Because nobody has the ability to actually chase them.” Balkissoon

[00:11:51] “I did have a good experience I should say when I wrote for Toronto Life about the trial of Byron Sonne who is jailed after the G20 for hacker type stuff. And so we were sort of going around a publication ban for me to do my story and I said to my editor. I really need you to revamp this contract, that’s not just about libel but publication bans and they were really great about it and I felt really secure.” Balkissoon

[00:13:18] “It’s like we keep finding new ways to disappoint Rehtaeh Parsons. Every institution fails and fails her and posthumously fails her. It’s just sickening, and now we are at this place where this law is supposed to be for the benefit of young people.” Jesse

“Well I guess that is an intersection of two parts of the criminal code because there is the criminal code which keeps sexual assault victims anonymous or maybe three parts actually. So sexual assault victims are anonymous, youth accused are anonymous and also anyone who said to be the victim in a child pornography case. So it’s sort of an intersection of all of those because there is also Rinelle Harper in Winnipeg whose sixteen and she was sexually assaulted and her parents started to release her name. And that was in mid-November and they were able to. But I guess the judge in the Rehtaeh Parsons case was not able to because of the child pornography provision, not because of the sexual assault provision. That’s my understanding.” Balkissoon

[00:14:43] “I’m taking a risk here and we don’t have any contracts drawn up so I’ll say it on the show. I’ll cover you in the case of any repercussion. And we are not the first, the Chronicle Herald I think needs to be applauded for saying this is ridiculous. Everyone knows her name. American media is reporting her name, her name is Rehtaeh Parsons. And the parents are saying please use her name, they are trying to turn something positive out of this horror that they lived through. There are real constraints to speech in Canada that don’t make a lot of sense in many cases. and this is one of them.” Jesse

“And especially because we all know her name and the only reason that charges were brought is because there is this community uproar and this sort of anonymous online anonymous with a capital A uproar that sort of forced these child pornography charges, there haven’t been any assault charges. So now the criminal code sort of retroactively is trying to protect her when no one was doing anything until her name became such a big deal. And the publication ban is also, I have a column coming out about this tomorrow in the Globe but it’s really impeding a journalist’s ability to tell a story because there are people wearing t-shirts with her name in court and that can’t be in the news and it seems a little ridiculous. And the Chronicle Herald because they are in that community and this is the thing to everyone in that community not only her name but knows the name of the boys which I don’t know. I don’t know if you do? So to not say any of their names seems a bit silly when everyone is just talking about it, but especially here’s when she is in-famous all across North America. It was really smart decision and looks like there maybe charges laid but I looked into this a bit and so the max financial penalty is five thousand dollars and there is also a chance of six months in prison. And I was talking about it to my husband last night and I was like I’m going on Jesse’s show tomorrow and I think we are going to say Rehtaeh Parsons and what do you think. And he’s like well you know are they really going to send you to jail when they haven’t sent the rapists to jail.” Balkissoon

[00:17:57] “This gets held up as this is the cyber-bully case and this is about the horrors of the online world and how cruel adolescents can be to each other where as I think that certainly the adult world, the institutions had a chance to do something about this, obviously share a big part of the blame. And then you look at why it finally got addressed because no charges were originally laid, and the authorities didn’t give a shit about her or about the crimes. The alleged crimes. It was social media that forced their hand really. It was anonymous and an online uproar that made this into the issue that it is and forced the system to react.” Jesse

[00:18:46] D.A in states criticizing social media.

“It’s become this weird shorthand for dismissing things. You know to say like Well I won’t be tried by twitter, I’m not going to pay attention to what’s happening in the twitterspere. You can dismiss things without getting into the substance of them just based on the brand identity of silliness or gossip that it is associated with. That social media is still in establishment circles, that still works I guess.” Jesse

“I guess, I mean does it work? I guess it maybe works among a different audience than you or I are in.” Balkissoon

[00:20:27] “This was the CP story and the Globe picked it up. That the Canadian Ferguson protest was controversial because they asked white people, the organizers asked white people to take a bit of a back seat” Jesse

[00:22:19] “Ultimately they are just sort of sad and what are you going to say. People were sad about the miscarriage of justice and I guess that’s not as grabby a story as like white people up in arms.” Balkissoon

“I think the truth of the matter is, not that there isn’t racism in Canada but there is no Canadian angle on the Ferguson story but that Canadians give a damn about it. It’s kind of a sad exercise in trying to pluck one out. It’s also a pre-scripted response, And just beyond just this Canadian take of oh white people not welcome. You can pre-script everything that is happened. It’s so predictable, and what are we going to do. focus on the level of rioting. Yeah the cops shouldn’t have killed that guy but like you also shouldn’t break windows of stores so lets move on.” Jesse

[00:23:23] “CBC’s coverage, they have a reported down there and it was *deep inhalation of air, loud of exhalation of disappointment*. They interviewed an awful lot of white residents of Ferguson. Not understanding why their city was being smashed. And the lead in this morning, There wasn’t a lot of violence but there was some.” Balkissoon

[00:24:34] “It would be an interesting exercise to try to actually write that news story a week earlier and see how much of it you actually have to change.” Jesse
[00:24:53] “I’m on twitter @Balkissoon.” Balkissoon

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